The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is making $1.6 million available in a second round of funding for an initiative designed to increase the ability of companies—especially those that are minority owned and operated—to hire people with disabilities.
Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis made the announcement at the National Disability Forum on Aug. 4, 2011, in Washington, D.C., which focused on strategies to increase employment opportunities in the small business community for people with disabilities.
The forum drew representatives from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), business, government and other organizations.
“The Labor Department is committed to ensuring that every American who wants a job can find one, including people with disabilities,” Solis said. The funding is for the Add Us In program, a DOL Office of Disability Employment Policy initiative that launched in 2010. One of its goals is to create business engagement models that can be replicated nationally.
The money will fund up to three cooperative agreements, with allotments ranging from $500,000 to $550,000. The application deadline is Sept. 2, 2011.
“We can’t spare anyone’s talent,” Solis said. “People with disabilities can and do want to work; in fact, there’s a growing body of evidence that workers with disabilities meet or exceed [performance standards].”
Solis emphasized the need for work flexibility options and accommodations.
“If we make modest accommodations, we can see their talent unleashed,” she said about persons with disabilities.
Providing those accommodations costs much less than employers think, noted Eric C. Peterson, manager, diversity and inclusion, at SHRM.
Peterson was among the panelists speaking during a morning plenary session that looked at trends in small business growth, demographics and disability. Also on the panel were Ivonne Cunarro, Minority Business Development Agency, and Terence McMenamin, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“We really need to reframe what we think an accommodation is. They are not special things for special people,” Peterson said. He pointed out, for example, that a shopping cart is an accommodation that makes up for the limitation of what two arms can carry.
Peterson said organizations looking to recruit and hire problem solvers would do well to consider persons with disabilities.
“People with disabilities are actually ready-made with that innovative thinking that organizations really need” because they have had to adapt and solve problems that others have not faced.
These bring fresh approaches, ideas and perspectives to workplace teams, Peterson said. He offered employers the following advice in becoming an employer of choice for workers with disabilities:
- Provide accommodations happily.
- Don’t lower performance standards.
- Recruit the best talent in whatever packaging that talent arrives.
- Provide access to tools, resources, information, equipment and career options.
- Plan for career development and advancement.
- Build an inclusive culture by educating everyone in the organization, not just recruiters and supervisors, about the organizational value of diversity.
“Create a culture in your organization where people can be themselves in lots of ways. They can bring their whole selves to work … rather than [fulfill] just a role on an organizational chart.”
Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.