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How can HR help introduce more people with disabilities into the workforce?

Whether you are looking for ways to enhance your organization’s corporate responsibility, improve standing in the community and marketplace, or start or expand your diversity initiative, helping introduce individuals with disabilities into the workforce is a strategic step well within HR’s reach. In a University of Massachusetts nationwide survey, 92% of respondents viewed companies that hired people with disabilities more favorably than those companies that did not. Therefore, supporting such a partnership with the community creates both loyal customers and loyal employees, thereby adding value in the marketplace.

While internal policies, training and diverse recruiting sources all play a role in helping recruit individuals with disabilities, a more immediate action with long-term dividends is offering internships to students or recent graduates with disabilities. These internships not only help these workers gain confidence and experience, but they will also create an additional pipeline of talent for the future and provide opportunities for inclusion that might otherwise not present themselves. An internship program for individuals with disabilities can be put in place with the help of several programs open to both public and private employers.

The Workforce Recruitment Program, co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and the U.S. Department of Defense, prescreens post-secondary students and recent graduates with disabilities from around the country. Information from these in-person interviews is housed in a database that can be accessed directly by federal government employers, and private employers can access the database through a form submission. Employers will be matched up with candidates who meet their needs for either summer internships or permanent placements.

Entry Point! is a program offered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to pair students with disabilities studying in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and business fields with employment internships. AAAS has partners that support the program by providing assistive technologies and other reasonable accommodations and, in some cases, temporary relocation costs if students must travel for the internship.

Emerging Leaders is a summer internship program for current undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities. Managed by the National Business & Disability Council, the program invites all colleges to participate, but focuses on the 125+ target colleges identified by their employer partners. Participating employers must offer certain commitments in exchange for ongoing support, extensive outreach efforts to colleges and universities, and the opportunity to work with and recruit well-qualified, educated and highly motivated students.

The American Association for People with Disabilities offers 10-week summer internships with public and private employers in the Washington, D.C., area and provides travel, housing and a living stipend for all summer interns.

The U.S. Business Leadership Network (USBLN) is the national business organization currently representing 50 affiliates and more than 5,000 employers using a "business-to-business" strategy to promote the business imperative of including people with disabilities in the workforce. The BLN provides an opportunity for employers to identify and share best practices on the employment of people with disabilities. The Office of Disability Employment Policy endorses the BLN concept of business-to-business mentoring to help create job opportunities for people with disabilities.

Other sources for information about successful employment practices are committees, councils or commissions on employment of people with disabilities in each state. Contact information for each state can be found on the state liaisons section of the ODEP web site.


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