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  • Hef Matthews

Disability Inclusion Starts in Communities

Community, group of people clapping

As an organization that partners with several employers on strategies to recruit, hire and retain individuals and veterans with disabilities, we know that companies who prioritize disability inclusion are able to differentiate themselves from the competition, attract new customers, reduce turnover and change their corporate culture. While disability inclusion can result in people and business driven outcomes, we also recognize that change like that doesn’t happen overnight by executive decree.

For many of the employers we work with that ultimately make the decision to put resources to diversity and inclusion, the conversation often starts at the top, with senior leadership. But even after an organization makes the long-term commitment to disability inclusion, it is not until action is taken at the local, community-level that the real change starts. After all, at even the largest corporations, work is simply a collection of people, all working and living together in a community.

A CEO of a company giving a speech to the media about how their organization prioritizes disability hiring and inclusion programs is great, and you hope that vision is adopted company-wide. But those statements are irrelevant if the hiring managers at each individual location throughout the organization fail to follow through in execution. For diversity and inclusion initiatives to truly be successful, it takes a well-trained, engaged, collaborative group effort at the local community-level.

Establishing a Community Brand, One Employee at a Time

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider these people my heroes.” – Fred Rogers

When people see a company’s employees as a reflection of their community, a community they care about, they see that company as a place they can work and a business they’d like to support. With one in four people in the U.S. living with a disability, people with disabilities should be well represented and properly supported within any employer claiming to care about inclusion.

In working with several clients, including some familiar brands such as PepsiCo, Synchrony, American Express and Aramark, we’ve learned the best ways for employers to strengthen their brand so they can effectively recruit and hire people with disabilities at the local level, is through employee training and by establishing local community partnerships.

Workforce Training

If a company plans to engage with the disability community, it’s critical they provide training and development to help those workplace leaders and employees to integrate with and value people with disabilities. It is statistically more likely that a hiring manager in any given community will NOT have a disability. Therefore it’s imperative that a company does everything in their power to breakdown any fears, stigmas or common misconceptions those individuals might have about the disability community.

Training employees at the local, community level not only empowers and enlightens the team, it creates a more diverse and inclusive work environment, one that ultimately improves business.

Community-Based Partnerships

For companies ready to diversify their workforce by hiring people with disabilities, putting in place the proper community supports through local partnerships is absolutely paramount to successfully recruiting, hiring and retaining individuals and veterans with disabilities.

It’s not enough for a business to simply post a job because chances are, if they aren’t perceived in their local community as an inclusive, employer of choice for people with disabilities, it’s likely their qualified candidate pool will look rather thin – often due to a lack of self-disclosure from fear the employer is discriminatory in their hiring practices. To combat this, employers looking to hire people with disabilities must engage with local talent partners at the community-level.

We work with companies to help them identify and build these talent partnership groups but for the disability community, we know these organizations very well. Talent partners include veteran’s groups, local colleges and universities, city governments, state workforce agencies, vocational rehabilitation providers and community organizations who provide services to individuals and veterans with disabilities. Among specific common groups found in cities across the country, we often will establish talent partnerships with the state-level Department Veterans Affairs, Goodwill, Easter Seals, Wounded Warriors, U.S. Vets, and many more.

These organizations typically operate in a particular geography and through their efforts, they have established a significant level of trust within the disability community. By partnering with community talent partners, employers can position themselves as a business that people with disabilities can work for and one they’d like to support.

Senior executives for large employers must take the first steps by setting forth a vision to achieve disability inclusion across the organization. But a vision only goes so far as the success of any disability inclusion initiative hinges on the ability to organize and create change at the community-level.

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