Free Online Resource Bridges Gap Between Employers, Workers with Disabilities

By Kathy Gurchiek Apr 6, 2017

A new website provides free training resources to help connect employment service professionals and employers with job seekers who have disabilities.

Employment service professionals are the bridge spanning the employment gap that people with disabilities often face, said Jeffrey Tamburo, faculty extension associate at Cornell University's Institute on Employment and Disability, which offers the new Diversity Partners Project. In his role, he provides training and content development for the Northeast ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Center. The center is part of the university's institute.

However, "The bridge may need repair. The bridge may need strengthening. The bridge may need support," he said during a March 29 webcast. Diversity Partners was designed to provide that support.

It was created for employment specialists, job developers, workforce development staff and others who help people with disabilities find jobs. However, HR professionals can also use it.

"Much of the content relates specifically to improving the employment experience of people with disabilities," said Ellice Switzer, content development specialist at Cornell in Ithaca, N.Y.  "Modules relating to disability etiquette, legal rights, affirmative action requirements and having high expectations for the employment potential of [people with disabilities] are very relevant to HR professionals," she told SHRM Online in an e-mail. Feedback from HR professionals about the content is welcomed, she added.

The site provides training for leaders and front-line staff through resources like videos, worksheets, case scenarios, assessments and discussion guides. Front-line staff are those people "who are out there knocking on doors and building those bridges to employers," Tamburo said.

It offers a "no-cost way for people to increase knowledge around disability and employment," Switzer said. She and colleague Wendy Strobel Gower spoke about the project at the National Association of Workforce Boards conference in Washington, D.C., on March 27.

The training addresses "everything from the very basics of disability etiquette to disability rights [and] disability policy," Switzer said. "A lot of modules are about leveraging disability policy to improve opportunities for [disabled] job seekers."

For instance, "Building Organizational Capacity: Enhancing Effective Structures for Learning, Culture, and Change" includes a section on workforce development. It's designed to improve an organization's ability to serve job seekers with disabilities.

Each training course takes about 20 minutes.

Another module, "Work and Disability: Past, Present, and Future," is designed to give organizational leaders "the information they need to understand the history of people with disabilities as a marginalized segment of the workforce, in order to support and engage [their] staff," according to the site.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Developing an Accessible Workplace]

The two year-long project is the result of listening to employment service professionals, working with a Cornell advisory panel and an employer panel, using evidence-based practices from the literature, and working with employers. The aim is to develop resources that can improve business relationships with job seekers who have any type of disability.

Strobel Gower said Diversity Partners wants to help stakeholders. That includes offering ongoing consulting with employers on this issue and creating free or low-cost customized trainings. 

"We want to know the challenges you face, the opportunities you created. We want to know if this leads to better outcomes for your organization," she said during the webcast

The project was funded with a grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research, a center within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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