Easterseals’ Employment Services throughout the United States command attention during National Disability Employment Awareness Month
Easterseals, a leading service provider and advocate for people with disabilities in the U.S., is driven by its purpose to change the way the world defines and views disability by making profound, positive differences in people’s lives every day. For more than 100 years, the non-profit organization has accomplished this through the delivery of critical services and powerful advocacy focused on ensuring that the one in four Americans living with disability today realize their potential so they can fully participate in life. Its National Network of 67 Affiliates provides a variety of home- and community-based services to children and adults with disabilities, veterans, seniors and their families – regardless of age or ability – throughout the country.
One of Easterseals’ key programs offers workforce solutions designed to secure meaningful employment for people with disabilities, including veterans and older adults. “Only 19% of people with disabilities are employed, compared to 66% of nondisabled people,” said Angela F. Williams, Easterseals President and CEO. “Plus, significant disparities in the median incomes for people with and without disabilities still remain. According to the 2015 U.S. Census, median earnings for people without disabilities were more than $30,469 compared to the $20,250 median income reported for individuals with a disability. Easterseals is committed to changing these inequities.”
Partnering with job seekers to identify their interests and assess their skills, Easterseals then provides training which prepares the candidate for employment interviews and additional supports as needed including resume writing, practice interviews and coaching. Easterseals also works with the employer to assure the candidate’s success once hired including workforce accommodations, assistive technology, job coaching and transportation.
Many U.S. corporations are realizing quantitative and qualitative benefits by hiring people with disabilities, captured in a 2018 Accenture Study: Getting to Equal. Among Study findings: companies deemed “Disability Inclusion Champions” realize higher shareholder returns and were, on average, two times more likely to outperform their peers in terms of total shareholder returns. These same businesses achieve 28 percent higher revenue and 30 percent higher profit margins compared to companies that do not include people with disabilities in their diversity and inclusion strategies. The qualitative benefits are equally impressive: higher retention rates among employees with disabilities, by up to 30 percent, when a well-run disability community outreach program is in place; increased productivity as reflected in a DuPont employee survey that found when employees with disabilities are graded on the same scale as nondisabled employees, 90 percent of them received performance ratings of average or above; enhanced overall employee morale as evidenced in studies that reflect nondisabled employees’ expectation and appreciation of a more inclusive work environment which they believe is better for everyone.
Persons with disabilities bring strengths such as problem-solving skills, agility, persistence and a willingness to experiment to the workplace – all qualities essential for innovation. Such has been the experience of Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble. The company approached Easterseals when it sought individuals on the autism spectrum to expand neurodiversity in its workforce. Neurodiversity is the concept that people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other neurological differences process information in ways that bring strengths to the workforce. Among skill sets of these individuals are data analytics, working with systems, and high productivity.
“P&G makes a variety of products to serve a diverse consumer base, so it would be impossible for us to know what is best for those consumers without working side by side with a diverse and inclusive employee base,” said Megan Lavine, P&G Associate Manger of Human Resources who works on diversity and inclusion initiatives. “P&G considers diversity and inclusion a company pillar and responsibility. This program is just one of our latest ways to ensure we can deliver those goals.” To improve the success of the hiring initiative, P&G brought in two nonprofit partners: Specialisterne and Easterseals Serving Greater Cincinnati. Specialisterne facilitated training for the core functions of the job while Easterseals job coaches worked with the participants to address the soft skills of navigating a corporate office environment.
“Before starting this program, if I’m being honest, I didn’t think any company would truly care about my disability or how to utilize it in a way to bring out the best in me,” said Danny Lakes, one of four managers hired by P&G to expand neurodiversity at its headquarters office after completing a five-week program there. They were hired for a team of Robotics Automation Software Developers and started their full-time jobs nearly a year ago. “Without this program, I was honestly lost,” Lakes continues. “I didn’t know if I was ever going to be able to move out on my own or if I was ever going to be independent. This program essentially gave me the opportunity of a lifetime.”
One of the Easterseals job coaches was David Tunney, who got to know the candidates and how they functioned under employment conditions. He determined their strengths and identified areas where they could use support. “For some it was developing techniques to work through stress and anxiety or to establish a work/life balance given the amount of work assigned and pressure to perform,” Tunney said. “Others benefited from facilitation to enhance social skills both in team settings as well as in initiating interactions among themselves and with P&G managers. Nearly all worked through periods of self-doubt regarding their abilities and received frequent encouragement to continue to do their best.” explained.
He continues to meet with the four hired individuals and their IT manager regularly to assess how they are adjusting to their new jobs, to discuss their progress and to work on strategies to address any challenges they may be facing. Tunney also attended follow-up meetings with candidates who did not make the cut at P&G to help them with the next steps in their careers. “I’ve worked in this field long enough to appreciate a time when employers were apprehensive of even considering employing an individual with Autism,” said Tunney. “I found it gratifying to be a part of something that represents progress in the change in our culture. Not only the acceptance of those with Autism but the recognition and recruitment of the considerable talent they can offer.”
Lavine expressed the value in sharing with the candidates P&G’s need to learn from them and believes that their willingness to do that “helped to build trust and make the experience more authentic for everyone involved.” She said she has met some amazing people that P&G’s traditional talent program may have screened out and wants to learn more about what she can do to expand inclusive hiring practices. “This project has been a passion for everyone involved on the team. I personally feel that this is not only the right thing to do for the community, but it’s the right thing to do for business. I am very pleased with the outcome, and the team is off to a great start here in Cincinnati. As we continue to support them, we are also looking forward to continuing this work in other areas of the company,” she said.
Easterseals also works with veterans to ensure their successful transition to civilian life through employment. Veterans are valuable workforce assets, delivering leadership skills, organizational expertise and an exceptional work ethic with a relentless pursuit of achieving goals, whether working independently or collaboratively in teams. So, it’s no surprise that employers frequently leverage Easterseals Military and Veterans Services to tap into this talent pool in their communities.
In many cases, the most valuable support that a veteran can receive is a job coach or mentor. Easterseals offers these services throughout the country by staff who are often veterans and military spouses. In many markets, Easterseals also matches candidates with employers seeking veterans as employees and leaders for their companies.
Older adults of 55 years or older can turn to Easterseals for training and employment opportunities through its Senior Community Employment Service Program (SCESP), the largest federally-funded program for older adults who seek employment and training assistance, as well as civic engagement. Through this transitional employment program, Easterseals partners with community-based non-profit organizations and government agencies to provide participants with training opportunities to update their skills. During their time in SCSEP, job seekers work with Easterseals staff to target and achieve personal employment goals.
As National Disability Employment Awareness Month is observed, corporations and individuals committed to advancing greater inclusion and diversity in the workplace – and in society in general – are encouraged to visit www.easterseals.com to learn how they can engage with Easterseals to accomplish these goals.