october 22nd–23rd, 2013 | washington, d.c.

Innovative Research on Employer Practices:
Improving Employment for People with Disabilities

A state of the science conference from the Rehabilitation and Research Training Center on Employer Practices Related to Employment Outcomes among Individuals with Disabilities. This two-day event highlighted the research findings from the Employer Practices Rehabilitation Research and Training Center at Cornell University ILR School's Yang-Tan Institute. It was a great success! Check back for reports and proceedings of the conference.

Employer Panel: Reactions to Day's Presentations and Discussion

Bio Sketches

Judy Young Photo

Judy Young joined the Yang-Tan Institute in September 2009 with 25 years of experience providing training and consultation for the business community on issues related to the employment and inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace and marketplace. Specifically, Ms. Young has been designing and delivering customized training programs on recruitment and hiring, accessibility and worksite accommodations, customer service, disability etiquette, and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Ms. Young also has extensive experience in proposal development and program management. She had provided direct support and oversight for numerous federally funded employment projects at multiple locations across the country, including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. These programs included funding from USDOL/ODEP, USDOL/ETA, US Department of Education/ Rehabilitation Services Administration and the Social Security Administration. Ms. Young worked extensively with Centers for Independent Living where she developed subcontracting relationships for the implementation of placement programs under the Projects With Industry initiative and assisted One-Stop Career Centers in improving and expanding services for job seekers with disabilities. Involvement with these programs has provided Ms. Young with a unique hands-on experience that enables her to offer companies practical solutions that seek to balance the needs of employees with disabilities with those of their employers while fostering improved integration and inclusion. With changes in demographics and the faces of disability, Ms. Young would like to utilize her experience to assist mature workers and veterans with disabilities in retaining or reentering employment.

Jill Houghton's Photo

Jill Houghton was appointed as the Executive Director of the US Business Leadership Network (USBLN®) in October 2011 after serving as the Interim Executive Director for 10 months. The US Business Leadership Network® (USBLN®) is a national non-profit that helps business drive performance by leveraging disability inclusion in the workplace, supply chain, and marketplace. The USBLN® serves as the collective voice of over 50 Business Leadership Network affiliates across the United States, representing over 5,000 businesses. Additionally, the USBLN® Disability Supplier Diversity Program® (DSDP) is the nation's leading third party certification program for disability-owned businesses, including businesses owned by service-disabled veterans. Ms. Houghton has over 22 years of diverse leadership experience at the federal, state and local levels to advance the employment and economic self-sufficiency of all people with disabilities. Most recently, Jill served as the Executive Director of the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Advisory Panel from February 2005 until its legislative sunset in January, 2008. The bi-partisan Panel was comprised of twelve private citizens and was housed independently within the Social Security Administration in Washington D.C. The Panel's charge was to advise the President, Congress and the Commissioner of Social Security on the Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency Program and issues related to work incentives programs, planning and assistance for individuals with disabilities. Ms. Houghton is a graduate of the University of Kansas and served as an intern for Senator Robert J. Dole in the United States Senate. Ms. Houghton was appointed in 2009 by Governor Charlie Crist to serve a three year term on the Florida's Commission for Transportation Disadvantaged and has also served on numerous boards at the national, state and local levels.

Wendi Secrist's Photo

Wendi Secrist is the Director of Government Solutions for Manpower, the world leader in innovative workforce solutions. Ms. Secrist directs the company's strategy to increase service to state and local government agencies and leverage Manpower's business relationships and cutting-edge assessments, training tools, and staffing methods to improve outcomes through a partnership with the United States' public workforce system. Ms. Secrist came to Manpower with a wealth of experience in the economic development and education arenas. Immediately prior to joining the company in 2010, Ms. Secrist served as Director of Program Planning and Development at the University of Idaho in Boise — building academic and professional development programs, overseeing enrollment management and student services and managing marketing and branding efforts for the University's graduate, research and professional development center. Before going to the University of Idaho, Ms. Secrist served as Administrator of the Economic Development Division for the Idaho Department of Commerce and Labor, where she successfully recruited companies to the state in addition to assisting many Idaho companies to expand. She also administered the state's community and rural development block grant funds — distributing around $15 million annually throughout Idaho to improve the quality of life of its citizens. Ms. Secrist's introduction to economic development was in rural Wisconsin, where she served in a key leadership role at two county-wide economic development corporations. Ms. Secrist currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Workforce Boards. Ms. Secrist is a past-president of the Idaho Economic Development Association. She was the vice president of the 2007-2009 Leadership Boise class and also served as the 2009 chair of the Boise Young Professionals. In 2008, Idaho Business Review recognized her as one of Idaho's "Accomplished Under 40." From 2000 to 2003, when she left Wisconsin, Ms. Secrist served on the Bay Area Workforce Development Board, where she chaired the Performance Committee and served on the Executive Committee.

Beth Milito Photo

Elizabeth Milito serves as Senior Executive Counsel with the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Small Business Legal Center, a position she has held since March 2004. Ms. Milito came to NFIB from the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs where she defended VA hospitals in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and West Virginia in employment and labor lawsuits and was responsible for training and counseling managers on fair employment and HR practices. Ms. Milito is responsible for managing cases and legal work for NFIB. She frequently counsels businesses facing employment discrimination charges, wage and hour claims, wrongful termination lawsuits, and in most other areas of human resources law. She also provides and develops on-line and on-site training on a variety of employment law matters and is a frequent media spokesperson on employment and labor matters.

Michael Murray Photo

Michael Murray serves as the principal advisor to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management's (OPM) Government-wide disability policies and programs. In this role, Murray works closely with senior level officials throughout the Federal Government to implement Executive Order 13548, Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities. Murray, who has had a disability since childhood, has a proven track record of increasing the inclusion of people with disabilities at the federal, state, and local levels. As a leader in disability employment, he has been highly successful in promoting and overseeing workforce equality efforts with large and small organizations. Before joining OPM, Murray was the Director of Programs at the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), raising over 4 million dollars and leading large national disability initiatives. On the state level, Murray was the Executive Director of the North Carolina (NC) Disability Action Network where he conveyed the concerns of North Carolinians to members of the N.C. General Assembly. Murray also worked for NC's State Protection and Advocacy Agency - Disability Rights NC, a local Center for Independent Living and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Cynthia Collver's Photo

Cynthia Collver is director of Enterprise Human Resources Compliance at Raytheon Company (NYSE:RTN). Raytheon Company, with 2012 sales of $24 billion and 68,000 employees worldwide, is a technology and innovation leader specializing in defense, security and civil markets throughout the world. Raytheon's global headquarters is in Waltham, Mass. In this role, Collver has overall responsibility for creating and implementing Human Resources (HR) compliance strategy, related programs and initiatives and processes for Raytheon to ensure consistency of application and approach. She oversees U.S. and international HR compliance and coordinates all HR political and legislative initiatives with current executive branch, key agencies and federal and state legislatures. Collver is responsible for the development and implementation of equal employment opportunity (EEO) and affirmative action strategies, plans and programs and is the primary contact to the government agencies and federal contract community. Prior to joining Raytheon, Collver held enterprise compliance and diversity roles at BAE Systems and MCI. Collver is vice chair and founding member of the National Industrial Liaison Group, a steering committee member for the Mid-Atlantic Corporate Industry Liaison Group, a member of the Society of Human Resource Management; Equal Employment Advisory Council and former board member, a member of the Mercer WON group and a member of Direct Employers Recruitment Regulatory Compliance Committee. She has served on various Equal Employment Opportunity Commission committees to include the Mediation Taskforce, Revisions to the EEO-1 Taskforce and the Charge Processing Taskforce. Collver is proud of her association and board member position with the now retired Mainstream, Inc., an organization that for more than 20 years placed differently abled job seekers with employers in the Washington metropolitan area. Additionally, Collver is an active participant in Raytheon's Diversity Council. Collver obtained a bachelor's degree from Kent State University. She is also SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) PHR (Professional Human Resources) certified.

Conference Remarks

Representatives from the private sector and federal agency perspectives provide context for the day's research from their own organizational experience and respond to the material that was presented on day one of the Conference.

Questions and Answers

Question, Participant:

Some of the presenters earlier showed very compelling data about internships and the positive benefits of internships. So I wanted to ask you all, what your thoughts are on the future of internships?

Particularly, I was interested in Manpower. Since you're interviewing ten million job applicants a year, have you started to look at trying to get people's aptitudes and interests when they're in high school, are you working with the school systems on that?

I'm very interested particularly in NFIB, in terms of whether small business is looking at taking free interns as a way of enabling young people with disabilities, to get their early work experience that they need to succeed later in life.

Answer, Wendi Secrist:

Help direct me back if I'm not answering the question directly. From the standpoint of trying to encourage high school students and working with internships, I wish I could say we had more formal infrastructure around that.

As an organization, we partner with Junior Achievement and have a very strong commitment to them nationwide. We also, through our public workforce programs, are involved throughout the country in helping operate summer work experience programs.

We are trying to leverage those business relationships that we have, to say, "Hey, open the door, this is your future workforce. You need to invest in it as well. Open the door to these summer work experiences."

Those are the two areas that we have going on right now. Youth employment is such a huge issue; it's such an important issue.

Answer, Elizabeth Milito:

I caution business owners, because you said something, and I apologize if I misquote you. But I think it was free interns, that is a problematic term, because I also do wage and hour compliance issues with our members.

I would never say to a business owner that you can get free interns, because you can get in a heck of a lot of trouble with another alphabet soup agency here in Washington with free interns. There are ways to go about it, but it can be tricky.

There are a lot of I's you have to dot, a lot of T's you have to cross to have a successful program.

Comment, Cynthia Collver:

And I would just add that whatever has been successful for other groups of people, like internships and co-ops, is also going to be successful for persons with disabilities. Copy a success model.

Comment, Michael Murray:

Obviously the federal government wants to hire interns. We do a great job hiring interns. We've got WRP and a lot of other things.

But, there is a small portion of the Rehabilitation Act that allows the federal government to accept unpaid work experience for anyone who has a vocational rehabilitation plan. So I just wanted to make sure that that was clear, the wage and hour stuff wouldn't apply in that particular situation.

Comment, Elizabeth Milito:

Those are federal sector workers, not private sector.

Comment, Michael Murray:

That's right, federal sector workers.

Question, Participant:

I have a question for Elizabeth. We provide an on-the-job training program and we have found that working with small businesses in the rural areas seems to work better. Do you have any advice or any suggestions about how we could improve on that, or promote it to mid-sized or larger companies?

Answer, Elizabeth Milito:

I gave you the demographic of the NFIB membership and it sounds like you're hitting the NFIB membership already. So moving onto the next level, I'm thinking of regional areas.

Again, local chambers and state chambers. Others in the room might have some suggestions for you. But I'm happy to talk with you afterwards too.

Comment, Susanne M. Bruyère:

I'm also going to ask Jill and Judy to tell a little bit more about your mentorship program before we get away as well, because I think that links to the internship question.

Question, Participant:

Thank you. I was wondering if any of you on the panel, or perhaps at Cornell or its partners, have looked at issues related to individuals with disabilities who are also English language learners, also known as limited English proficiency issues? Has anyone looked at some of the issues that this population has?

Answer, Michael Murray:

I can tell you in the federal government that we're looking for people with disabilities and people who are Hispanic. That doesn't necessarily mean obviously that they're second language learners, but it's always kind of the joke of if you can get a person with a disability who has a veterans preference and is Hispanic, they're pretty much gold.

So if you figure out how to make sure that we can get more second language learners with disabilities, and if they're veterans too, that would be awesome. Let me know, because I will pay money for that.

Question, Participant:

They'll be SES in a minute, right?

Answer, Jill Houghton:

I would just say that our partners, the Office of Disability Employment Policy and the What Can You Do campaign, have converted all their materials into Spanish and the public service announcements I know are airing on channels like Univision to get the word out to folks that speak Spanish about thinking about what you can do, as opposed to what you can't do.

Question, Participant:

First, I want to thank you for all your time. The common theme that I've noticed is self-identifying or disclosure for individuals.

So for individuals that are actively seeking employment, I work with consumers who are legally blind, we tell them not to disclose on their resume yet that they're a person with a disability. If you put blind or person with disabilities, those that may not be as educated or aware, those front line HR individuals may or may not just put that right in the trash, depending on their other skills and abilities and education.

So are we recommending that they put that on their resumes, that they're diverse in the sense of a person with a disability?

Answer, Cynthia Collver:

I don't think we can go so far as to recommend that. We'll give people the opportunity to voluntarily self-disclose, and if they do, they do. Now from a larger company perspective, you can never say that all large companies operate in any one way, that monolithic, a comment that has been made heretofore.

But I think again, through the online website application, your self-disclosure form gets separated from your application, and there isn't sort of any throwing of an application in the trashcan.

Once you send it into the website it's there. But still that is an individual choice and I think we'll have to see how it plays out before we can go so far as to take a more proactive position.

Answer, Michael Murray:

Yes, and I think that it is actually interesting, because one of the things that Cornell was doing research on is what are the things that cause someone to disclose?

One of the things that causes people to disclose is that they know that it's going to be secure, and that it's going to be separate from their employee file.

In the federal government, for example, we have a Standard Form 256, where people can self-identify that they have a disability. But that form, although it is traceable to that person, is not kept in their employee file.

It's kept separately and treated separately, so that people know, "Look, this is going to be kept as confidential as possible," and if I as your manager want to go look in your file, I can see a whole lot of things, but I'm not going to see your SF-256.

So I think that as businesses, we should continue to make that one of the things that we do, and don't put it on your resume.

Question, Participant:

My question had to do with informal ways of job search for people with disabilities. I know that Wendi was saying there's a large number of job openings that aren't being met. I know I've heard a lot about challenges, in terms of finding people with disabilities.

Yet we've mostly been talking about applications, about the formal job applicant process, and I wanted to hear some thoughts about what you would advise people with disabilities who are looking for work to do, in terms of informal and if that's something to think about.

Answer, Cynthia Collver:

Well, that's another issue where you want to follow best practices that other groups have used. So I think that definitely a best practice is networking. Everybody's got to network even if that means telling your family and anybody that you come into contact with that you're looking for a job and asking if they know anybody who's hiring.

Just get the word out there and then look for ways to get engaged with the employer community. The Chamber, I think, was mentioned as an organization. It doesn't cost a lot of money to go to those events. But you've got to get out there, let people know that you're looking, and be proactive.

Definitely attend skills training, any of the programs that are out there to build your skills and at the same time be letting people know that you're looking for work, you know.

It seems like it might take a long time, but you never know when you've hit just that right person who can connect you to the company's website to make an application.

Comment, Jill Houghton:

I would just like to add to that. We used to say it's who you know, and now I think we also add, it's who knows you. It's who knows you and knows not only who you are, but specifically what it is that you're looking for and what skills you bring to the table.

So it's not just, "I'm looking for a job." It's being very specific in your networking.

Comment, Wendi Secrist:

Well, and Jill, I think what you're talking about is what we call developing a personal brand. It's developing your elevator speech and being able to very quickly, within 30 to 60 seconds, communicate to somebody who you are and what you're interested in.

Because the more specific you can be about that, the better people can help you. Cynthia, you talked about all the great ideas around networking and some of the informal things. But we don't want to discount the formal aspects of applying online and following the processes.

I'm not expert on what a resume needs to look like these days, to make it through applicant tracking systems. But there's an art to that, and making sure that the case managers and counselors and others really understand what happens when that resume gets submitted, so that they are giving the best advice possible to the candidates.

Question, Participant:

I know we tend to stress that the accommodations could be free and some of them don't cost very much. Yet I heard Michael talking about targeted groups.

What kind of bothers me is that if we constantly stress it doesn't cost much or it's not very much of a cost, that we are eliminating people with the targeted disabilities, where their accommodations may cost more.

So within the private sector you may hire someone who it doesn't cost much or costs very little to make an accommodation for. But it may mean that you don't hire someone who would cost more. I think if we always stress that, that businesses are always thinking about that.

I know that you have to have a profit margin and so on and so forth. But I find that difficult to keep hearing. I must say one thing. I am just an individual who likes to advocate for people with disabilities, and I have worked on some community boards.

One of them is within Fairfax County, and at one time, each department would receive a certain amount of their budget that they could use for accommodations. At one of these meetings I stood up and said, "You're not going to hire people with severe disabilities if you have a certain set amount of money within your budget, and some departments have very little money." So what they did is if the accommodation goes up to a certain figure, then that department takes care of it. If the accommodation is higher, then it comes out of a central fund. You shouldn't be eliminating people who have more severe disabilities and may need more money to meet their accommodations.

Answer, Cynthia Collver:

I think that's a really valid point. I was struck today, and also at the U.S. BLN conference a couple of weeks ago, around the conversation of maybe changing the conversation so that it isn't that accommodations don't cost very much, but that look at what you do to empower your employees to be more productive.

We heard today about the CEO and the airplane. We heard today about 14 percent of persons with disabilities will ask for an accommodation, but eight percent of persons without a disability are using some job aid to make them more productive, to make the workforce safer, for whatever.

I think if we can talk in those terms about accommodations, we move away from the concern that you've expressed.

Comment, Judy Young:

I just want to mention that Assistant Secretary of ODEP, Kathy Martinez, hates the term "reasonable accommodations," and I think if she could change the regulations and the language, she would. What she calls them is "productivity tools". So the minute that you are looking at accommodations, or an employer looks at accommodations as a productivity tool, not only that the cost is then not a factor, because the return on the investment will be high.

But it also would mean that the productivity tools are not only needed by people with disabilities, and this is to reinforce what you said Cynthia, but all of us need productivity tools. So I think that if we cannot change the language, we can change the message, that this is really a productivity tool.

But I also agree that we don't want to mislead employers by thinking that all accommodations are at no cost. But what the Job Accommodation Network refers to, and our colleagues and the panelists were talking about the 500 or 600 dollar figure, is an average.

Because the large majority of people with disabilities do not need an accommodation, and if we talk about averages, those that do need high cost accommodations somehow balance it out. I think productivity tool, Kathy Martinez says something that is a good message for all of us.

Comment, Susanne M. Bruyère:

Jill and Judy, could you talk a little bit about the internship program? Is there anything else you'd like to say about that, or mentoring programs because the question did come up about internships.

Comment, Jill Houghton:

Can I give Maggie an opportunity to speak? Maggie, Judy, and Mylene Padolina on our team are leading this program and Kathleen Lee from Cornell.

Comment, Maggie Roffee:

The program started as a little pilot that the USBLN did with ODEP as part of our alliance, and we started real small. We thought let's do about ten people. We went out to the USBLN business members, ODEP, and Cornell's Circle of Champions, which Sarah here from Aetna is part of.

I think Cynthia, you're part of the Circle of Champions also, as well as part of the USBLN. We said let's match company folks. We're not talking about company folks with disabilities only or people in D&I or HR, but people throughout the company, who would be interested in mentoring, having a six-month mentoring relationship with graduating, or recent graduates of colleges and universities and the professions.

We drew from the Workforce Recruitment Program and it doubled that year. We were looking for ten. We got21 and it was so successful, it was so positive. The young students learn what they don't learn in school, and that's what you need to sell yourself, to market yourself, to do your resume, how to do an interview.

The mentors brought them into their workplaces when they were geographically near. They set up mock interviews, informational interviews, and introduced the students to individuals in their particular field if the mentor didn't happen to be in the same field, although we tried to match them with the same field.

So we did the matching really by interest and professions. We didn't match by disability or any other factor. We matched by professions. So the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation the following year gave us a grant, a two-year grant to expand this and bring this program up to full program status.

Again we said we won't overdo. Let's try for 40. Like Jill said, we had almost 60. So we're finishing our first year of a two-year grant, and it is open to private sector employers.

They're Workforce Recruitment students and it's just a great program. It makes a big difference because I think as someone had mentioned, and I turned to Jennifer and said "Ah yes, failing lunch." For anyone in the disability community, we often say, this person has all the skills and abilities and education, but what they do is "fail lunch."

Mentoring is critical. It's even before. It can be with internships or apart from internships. But it's an incredible pipeline tool that we really encourage all employers to utilize.

Comment, Jill Houghton:

It's been interesting too, because many of those students came to our conference and met their mentors and I've seen a lot of action, in fact like today. Like there's this one student, Marcus Tuck, and it's like the race is on. Who's going to hire him first, because everybody wants this kid. Really, really strong candidates that came out of this Workforce Recruitment Program.

Comment, Judy Young:

And you know, while the mentoring program's outcome was not necessarily employment, several of the mentees already have received jobs because they have proven themselves. So when Dale asked something about the informal kind of network, internships or mentorships can sometimes be a good opportunity. I just wanted to mention that we keep on thinking inside or outside of the box. I don't even know which side of the box I'm in sometimes.

But I just know that because this mentoring program is so successful, we are really looking at replicating it for veterans with disabilities, who also need mentoring due to the fact that they are transitioning in two, specific, very difficult areas. One is they went into the military, into service, into war without a disability and they come out with a disability. So they need to transition into a disability. The second one is many of them did not have prior civilian workforce experience, so they're also transitioning into that.

So the success of the mentoring program prompted us to think about collaborating again with the USBLN, and we are looking for funding for this veterans mentoring program. Even if we just use the WRP program, we have a lot of WRP students and graduates who are actually veterans who have done, are now studying on the GI bill, and many of them have disabilities. Obviously in the WRP, all of them do. So just a little plug on that story.