Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Advancing Disability Employment: A Labor Day Call-to-Action

For many, Labor Day signals the beginning of autumn and the end of summer. And those of us in the disability arena can look back on the summer of 2010 as an especially momentous one. In July, the nation celebrated the 20 year anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), one of the most significant pieces of civil rights legislation passed in the history of this country. In addition, President Obama signed an Executive Order on July 26 that will help transform the disability employment landscape within the Federal Government. It calls on all Federal departments and agencies to increase the numbers of people with disabilities hired and to improve retention and return-to-work of Federal employees with disabilities.

While some of us are born with disabilities, many more of us will acquire a disability over the course of our lives, including as a natural part of aging. A key strategy for employers to retain workers with disabilities is to foster inclusive and accessible environments for all of their employees. This includes the availability of workplace accommodations and accessible technology, an approach that can increase everyone’s productivity.

The Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) is working on a range of education and policy initiatives designed to address these issues. Their website features helpful resources for employers, as well as links to free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues. Learn more by visiting the websites of ODEP’s Job Accommodation Network (JAN)and Employer Assistance & Resource Network (EARN).

It is heartening and encouraging to see the Federal Government working to become a model employer of people with disabilities. We encourage organizations in the private sector to do the same – to step up and be a model employer. Advancing employment opportunities for people with disabilities strengthens not only America’s economy, but also its ideals. It creates a more inclusive America where every person is recognized for his or her accomplishments.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Department of Labor Has Recognized Customized Employment As A Way To Help People With Disabilities Get Jobs

Excerpt from an interview with Chris Brandt, AtWork! CEO, on NW Focus. Click here to see the entire interview.

Our services to both employers and people with disabilities is very personalized and we’re there to be a solution to a business’s work force problems. We bring work place design and accommodations that can help everyone’s job be smoother faster more efficient, more productive. We call it universal design.

As an example we may look at an assembly or a process where things have to be put away in bins and they have to be labeled. So you look and see if this is “A”, “B”, “C” or “D”, “E”, “F” to find the right bin something goes in by reading. Sometimes people with cognitive disabilities don’t read so to do that job we may color code the item and the bin so that they can make the connection between the object and the bin where it belongs. When people who do read perform the same job using the colored bins, they do it way faster. They spend less time reading what the label says. Matching colors is easier for everyone. That is a really simple example of redesigning the workplace to make it more productive for everyone.

We can help an employer look at all aspects of employing a diverse work force. We can help them learn about and understand the Americans with Disabilities Act and their responsibilities in recruiting and hiring practices. Typically the job is not required to be advertised. There is no law that says you can’t hire someone by creating an employment position.

The Department of Labor has recognized Customized Employment as a way to help people with disabilities get jobs. Our President, the Department of Labor and our state government are all committed to getting people with disabilities jobs.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

We Look At A Business To Discover Ways A Person With Disabilities Can Contribute

Excerpt from an interview with Chris Brandt, AtWork! CEO, on NW Focus. Click here to see the entire interview.

When AtWork! places a person with disabilities in a customized job we’re really looking for a place in that business where a person with a disability can contribute in a way that the business may not have imagined. It’s not a job off the shelf, not a job advertised on Craig’s List were we fill out an application and compete with 20 other applicants to win that job.

We go in and we look at a business to discover ways a person with disabilities can contribute doing essential duties that typically free up other people with more technical skills to be more productive producing the businesses products or service. For example, a person with a disability works at Washington Square, the condo complex in downtown Bellevue. He is employed by The CWD Group, Inc., the property management firm that manages the complex. He’s not in a regular janitor or maintenance position. His position is designed for him but his position is vital to the rest of his crew.

There are 6,000 light bulbs in those buildings, 25 floors in each tower. Someone has to check to see if those light bulbs are still lit and track where they are. Hayden goes around and does that. He also cleans and polishes all the moldings and railings on all 50 floors. His work makes a huge difference for the people who live there and frees up the maintenance workers with different kinds of skills to deal with plumbing issues or wax the floors or other things that are not on Hayden’s job description. He has contributed to the bottom line in many ways and his employer is now looking to hire other people with disabilities that can contribute in unique ways.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Businesses That Hire People With Disabilities Often Have A Positive Bottom Line

Excerpt from an interview with Chris Brandt, AtWork! CEO, on NW Focus. Click here to see the entire interview.

Unfortunately in our country today being born with a disability or acquiring one later in life sets you up for a life of poverty and isolation. That’s not good for the person with a disability but it’s also not good for our society either. We are investing resources and trying to support people in a way that doesn’t help them to become independent and self sufficient.

That’s what AtWork! is all about, being leaders and champions of that equal rights movement [8/3/10 blog] and demonstrating to the world what people with disabilities really can do by discovering their talents. We use strategies that we call Customized Employment that are very innovative and very personalized.

They involve the person with a disability and all the people who care about them in their lives coming together and discovering the best pathway to a job in the community, a life-long career. Together we figure out how our professional staff, Employment Consultants and Job Coaches, can work with the person and their circle of support, those people who care about them, to help them find their best niche, their best job.

We all want to have jobs we love. I love my job. I get to help people change their lives every day. I get to help businesses contribute to their bottom line in a new way because businesses that hire people with disabilities often have a positive bottom line. They make more money, their work place changes in positive ways. So it’s not just the person with a disability changing. I get to see how our society is changing as people with disabilities are more and more included in the community and people develop relationships and friendships and enrich our lives.

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

It's an Equal Rights Movement

Excerpt from an interview with Chris Brandt, AtWork! CEO, on NW Focus. Click here to see the entire interview.

We [AtWork!] help people with disabilities discover their talents, find their unique skills. We believe everyone has the capacity to work in our communities and really should be given the opportunity to do so. For us it’s more than working, it’s a cause, it’s a movement, an equal rights movement.

People with disabilities have been excluded from the work force forever. We used to put people with disabilities away in institutions and took advantage sometimes of their labor in those institutions to do jobs that nobody else wanted to do. But we never thought they might be able to contribute in the same way as you and I might contribute to business or to our community.

Over time we began to recognize that that wasn’t true. To exclude a whole segment of the population from equal opportunity is not what America is about. It’s really the last equal rights movement. We’ve seen an equal rights movement for people of color, an equal rights movement for women, and now we see an equal rights movement for people with disabilities beginning with the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act 20 years ago this July.

Here in Washington State we’ve had the adoption of the Working Age Adult policy in 2006 which is truly a state of the art cutting edge policy in the nation. That policy really focuses tax payers resources on helping people with disabilities get jobs in the community where they can really be productive, really contribute to the bottom line of a business, earn some decent wages and escape poverty.

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