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Job-hunting? We can help! Our Employment section provides valuable insight into career planning, job search, small-business ownership and other job-related resources. Read encouraging success stories from people with disabilities who got valuable training and landed a rewarding job. You’ll also get employment news, notice of job-focused events, career-planning guidance, employer resources and lots of heartening stories about people with disabilities working for a paycheck.
A unique business opportunity has developed for entrepreneurs in the transportation sector. There are populations of disabled individuals in cities, suburbs, and rural areas that require adaptable transportation to various non-emergency medical appointments. The NEMT potential for wheelchair transport van owner/operators is growing at an astounding rate.
As with starting any wheelchair transport van business, there are several concrete steps to be taken to ensure a proper foundation. For the sake of brevity, this article will focus on four primary elements: (1) establishing a business entity; (2) assembling a wheelchair transport van fleet; (3) creating a website and social media presence; and, (4) setting up a client/customer pipeline. We’ll conclude with some resources you can consult for additional information. Continue reading →
Democratic Governor Jack Markell from Delaware and Republican Congressman Pete Sessions from Texas are nearly polar opposites ideologically speaking, but that has not stopped the two have from uniting together to help push a public-private initiative to get companies hiring disabled workers. Currently, over 80% of the disabled workforce is unemployed, a number the two agree is out of control.
In mid-July, the National Governors Association (NGA) met in Williamsburg, Virginia. The hot topic of the meeting was the nation’s extremely high unemployment rate, and how to create jobs for the millions of the nation’s unemployed. However, Governor Jack Markell, who was recently selected to head the NGA for the next year, chose to focus on the special needs community.
“There are a lot of people who want to be working in our country, and aren’t given a shot.” stated Gov. Markell, who dubbed his initiative, “A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities.”
Governor Markell believes that a targeted initiative “can move the needle” in regards to hiring. He believes that the 80% unemployment rate those with disabilities face is “staggering” and that the solution is outreach and education.
Texas Representative Pete Sessions is the chair of the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC). His politics are polar opposite of Governor Markell, who is a Democrat and a huge supporter of the Obama campaign. Markell was surprised to find such a passionate ally in Sessions when it came to disability rights.
Representative Sessions has a son with Down syndrome. He has publicly commented on having one son in the upper 2% of academic ability, and one in the lowest 2%. It was the difference between the two that motivated him to become the leading Republican advocate in Congress for those with physical and mental disabilities.
Sessions stated that his sons, Bill, 22, and Alex, 18, both have needs and goals, they simply have to be met differently. “He can’t be the state wrestling champion like Bill, but he has pride and he wants to be successful, too.” Alex has already overcome obstacles to become an Eagle Scout like his older brother, father and grandfather before him.
It’s a well-known fact that today’s GOP does not celebrate former Republican president George H.W. Bush’s Americans with Disabilities Act, signed in 1990. Sessions is not looking for another government-driven program. On the contrary, he thinks there are far too many at the state and federal level currently. He got behind Markell’s initiative because it’s a public-private initiative that doesn’t force businesses to do anything.
While Markell doesn’t have the personal experience that Sessions has to spur his desire for change, he did have a moment where the light bulb turned on. Markell was attending an event sponsored by Bank of America, when he met a newly hired 25-year-old with Down syndrome. Markell asked the new hire what he did before getting the job with Bank of America, and and the young man responded that for six years he watched TV with his mom and Dad. Markell knew it was time for change.
While it has taken a while for Markell to bring the issue into focus, he signed the Employment First Act (House Bill 319) into law in Delaware, which requires state agencies that supply services to the disabled to also consider hiring them. This is the first step in what Markell and Sessions hope will be many of positive change for workers with disabilities.
In July of 2010, President Obama ordered the government to hire at least 100,000 new employees with disabilities over the following five years. Two years into this executive order, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) announced on May 25, 2012 some rather disappointing statistics in a report criticizing the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Labor Department (DOL).
Under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, an employee is officially classified as disabled if he or she has “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” The United Nations reports that over 650 million people fall under this classification, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims that 47.5 million Americans have a disability. That’s nearly 21.8 percent of the population in the United States.
Unfortunately, disabled workers battle an unfair stigma of being unequal to non-disabled workers in regards to what they can contribute to the workplace. When you couple the social stigma with educational barriers to success, it paints a fairly grim picture. Students with disabilities are statistically more likely to drop out of high school, and less than 36.4 percent of high school students with disabilities earn a diploma. With this in mind, it’s obvious to see the effect this has on the number of disabled students pursuing a college degree, which impacts the employment statistics as well.
There are many advocates fighting the stigmas surrounding disabled employees. One of the champions of the cause is Rebecca Cokely, White House Director of Priority Placement.
“Equal employment means to me going beyond a functional shift and resulting in a philosophical shift in the expectations of young people with disabilities so that in elementary school, when students present what they want to be when they grow up, no one will say that a kid with a disability cannot be an astrophysicist, a lawyer, a chef, or whatever they may want to be,” Cokely said.
The OPM has failed to include all setbacks in its mandatory reports to the White House. That office has also failed to implement disability hiring training programs for agency officials. There is question as to the quality of the data being used to measure the OPM’s progress in meeting the goals set in July of 2010.
Some additional disturbing facts from the OPM include:
Of the 66 agency plans for increasing the hiring of disabled employees, which represents more than 99 percent of the federal civilian executive branch workforce, only 7 met the OPM’s 13 criteria;
More than half of all agency plans met eight or fewer of the 13 criteria;
29 of the plans had no numerical goals for hiring disabled employees;
Nine did not identify an official person to oversee the hiring initiative.
“Although federal agencies have taken the first step by submitting action plans to OPM for review, many agency plans do not meet the criteria identified by OPM as essential to becoming a model employer of people with disabilities,” GAO said in its report.
The OPM acknowledges the government is behind schedule in regards to the 200,000 employee goal. In 2010 and 2011, the government has hired 20,000 of the required 200,000. To meet the goal, the government would need to hire 60,000 disabled workers per year, if it were to meet the 5 year plan.
Part of the challenge does rest with the employees. Many employees with disabilities choose not to disclose their disabilities on the voluntary disability disclosure, for fear it will cause workplace discrimination. The DOL plans to promote voluntary self-reporting by employees with a marketing campaign to get the word out and correct the underrepresented nubmers currently reported.
A University of California student at has filed a lawsuit against UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) over a discriminatory hiring policy that excludes students with disabilities. Global Studies major Alexander Stern filed the lawsuit in last October after discovering that his disability was the reason he had difficulty getting a job through the Disabled Students Program.
The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 made it illegal to discriminate against persons with disabilities when hiring. According to Stern, the UCSB online application process does not inquire as to whether an applicant with a disability can perform basic and unskilled jobs, however, applications indicating a disability are automatically flagged and the applicants are denied employment.
“They have an extremely wide and broad definition of disability and you can see that very easily because if you just simply go to their site, press one button indicating that you might have a disability, that’s when the flagging process starts. And from that point on is when you’re denied the jobs,” said Stern. He added that applicants without disabilities can easily apply for a job.
Stern stated his case in an email to the Bottom Line, UCSB’s newspaper. “A disabled veteran or a cancer patient would be refused so much as consideration for one of these jobs,” he wrote. “One such job is the ‘test proctor’ position, which merely requires the employee to monitor one or a few students to see if they are cheating. Clearly, not each of the 54 million Americans with a disability should be deemed presumptively unqualified for this type of job.”
Before he filed his suit, Stern spoke with the director of the Disabled Students Program, Gary White. “The response I got was shocking,” he said. “The director of the department [White] said that hiring any disabled person represents an additional liability. He said his job was to minimize the potential for liability.”
The courts are currently reviewing Stern’s lawsuit. In the meantime, he has started an online petition which details his complaint. “I’m not asking for affirmative action,” Stern said. “I don’t believe that anyone with a disability should be automatically entitled to a job, nor do I think that they have any more right to that job than a non-disabled person. I simply requested that they not look at one single word tied to their identity: disabled.”
Stern has also started an online petition, which can be found at: http://www.ucdiscrimination.com/
Pictured is Ayla Topgul, a seamstress who became disabled through her years of
work in the industry, at her Angora Design Studios (photo via orlandosentinel.com)
People without disabilities are having a tough enough time finding a job in today’s job market, so imagine how hard it is to get a job when you have a disability. Currently, the jobless rate among working-age persons with disabilities is nearly 50 percent. In the state of Florida, government agencies and non-profit organizations are facing the problem head-on—by helping persons with disabilities become their own boss. One such agency is the Central Florida Disability Chamber, which helps people with disabilities write business plans and helps them obtain funding to start their own businesses.
“We’re seeing a major influx of people saying, ‘What I really want is to start my own business,’” said chamber president Rogue Gallart. “We work with clients across the board to help them write their business plans and then assist them in finding the funding they need. Essentially, we’re a business incubator.”
To date the chamber has helped write 17 business plans and is working on 20 more. The Central Florida Disability Chamber is the only organization of its kind in the state and one of the few in the country. Their clients have started businesses ranging from construction companies to Internet companies to street-corner food carts.
According to Gallart, family support is essential for a potential entrepreneur to succeed. New businesses typically don’t have the resources to hire outside help, so they must rely on people who are willing to provide free labor or help out with living expenses while a person builds his business. Family support, or lack thereof, can make or break a budding enterprise.
Peter Schoemann, an attorney who started the National Chamber of Commerce for Persons with Disabilities, highly praises Gallart’s efforts, calling his organization “a fantastic place.”
Because of the success of the Chamber, Schoemann’s group gets requests from Texas, New York and Washington, D.C. to duplicate the Central Florida model. He warns, however, that not everyone is cut out for entrepreneurship. “You have to have willpower,” he said. “It’s one thing to have a good idea. It’s another to be willing to put in the effort 24-7 to run your own business.”
There is also the problem of a strong disincentive for government disability recipients, according to Schoemann. “It blows my mind the way the current system is set up. The moment you earn more than the ridiculously low income allowed, you’re going to risk getting kicked off. Yet that’s long before a new business owner can make enough money to survive,” he said.
Yet on the other side of the equation, many entrepreneur-wannabes with disabilities exhibit a stronger determination to succeed than their able-bodied peers, mainly because they’re used to overcoming barriers. One such individual is 35-year-old quadriplegic Bill Miller. A freak accident at age 20 left him unable to walk, move his arms, sit up or take care of himself. His disabilities, however, only strengthened his determination to succeed. Miller went back to college online and obtained his Bachelor’s degree in business administration with a GPA of 4.0. He is currently working on getting his Master’s in entrepreneurship.
With the aid of a voice-activated computer, Miller has worked as a movie reviewer for a local newspaper. He was also instrumental in the invention and marketing of the IKAN (pronounced “I can”) Bowler, a wheelchair-mounted device that enables quadriplegics to bowl. The device sells for $699. “Right now it’s an extremely tough market, and this is not a low-cost product,” Miller said of the device. “Right before the recession hit, we were just starting to turn a profit.” Miller sees his future in both online and classroom teaching. His ultimate goal, he says, “is to be a contributing member of society. I don’t want to be supported by taxpayers.”
To date, about 95 percent of the businesses launched with the Chamber’s assistance are still operating. One such business is Angora Design Studio in Winter Park, owned by 63-year-old Ayla Topgul. “They are wonderful,” said the expert seamstress and designer. Topgul found herself unemployed after over 40 years in the industry because of constant shoulder, back and foot problems. Her application for disability was denied—an unfortunate common occurrence—and she didn’t bother appealing.
“What she really wanted was to work,” said her daughter, Aydan Topgul. “She said to me, ‘What am I supposed to do? I can’t just sit around all day.’ And she can’t. She always has to be doing something.” Topgul first reached out to Workforce Central Florida for help. They referred her to the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, who then referred her to the Central Florida Disability Chamber.
Their two-person staff analyzed her business idea, helped her write up a business plan, obtained funding for equipment and other startup expenses, and helped her find a storefront. Angora Design opened for business last year. The business still has yet to make a name for itself and is just now breaking even, but Topgul is thrilled nonetheless. “I am happy now. I know I do good work for people,” she said as she pointed out pieces of her handiwork, such as a handmade lace and several custom and intricate wedding gowns. Adds her daughter: “If you show her a picture, she can make it.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs is now promoting self-employment to its disabled veterans. Blue Orb, Inc., the parent company of orbiTouch, was recently awarded a three-year, $100,000 grant by the National Science Foundation. orbiTouch is the manufacturer of a keyless-computer-keyboard that allows individuals lacking fine-motor dexterity in their hands to easily navigate a desktop computer. Partnered with the VA, orbiTouch enlists veterans and other people with disabilities to help them become their own boss. For 42-year-old service-disabled veteran Rodney Cruce of Orlando, their efforts came right on time.
After spending more than 20 years in the Army, Cruce came home in 2009. It wasn’t long before he realized he lacked the networking skills and connections necessary to build his security and crisis-management company, On Point Saliency. His company trains business people who plan to travel and/or operate overseas. Despite the company’s impressive expertise and credentials, Cruce still has trouble getting meetings with corporate decision-makers.
“Part of it is the recession,” said Cruce. “But that [lack of connections] really has been the hardest part. “I don’t want anybody to think I’m asking for a handout — because I’m not — but I just want to be as successful in the civilian sector as I was in the military.”
Business owners who still think accessibility is not that important should take a hint from NASA. The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s inclusive culture impressed Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy, during a tour of the space center’s satellite testing facility. He shared his experience on the WhiteHouse.gov blog.
According to Dale, Goddard fosters a culture that emphasizes recruiting, hiring, training, and retaining employees with disabilities. Goddard’s human resources managers attended a first ever disability job fair held by the Office of Personnel Management in 2009. The center has hired many qualified engineering, science, math, and technology candidates thanks to its relationship with the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) Internship Program. The space flight center also works with the Workforce Recruitment Program and vocational rehabilitation centers to obtain qualified staff. These hiring and recruiting practices enables Goddard to achieve internal veteran and disability hiring goals.
Goddard also sets a standard for accessibility that any businesses should strive for: ensuring new-hire training for all, regardless of physical ability, through a feedback system that helps minimize unintentional barriers. Staff and management also participate in learning and development sessions that give employees an opportunity to address accessibility and insensitivity issues, as well address disability-related issues.
Lack of reasonable accommodations is a common barrier to employment for job applicants with disabilities. Goddard ensures a level playing field for all employees by maintaining a centralized accommodation fund that allows managers to make accommodations without having to worry about their operating budgets.
Dale was impressed with how well the staff diversity matched the diverse skill sets necessary to stay on the cutting edge of space and earth sciences. He, along with a group of other individuals, got to meet some of the staff responsible for designing “some of the coolest hi-tech stuff.”
The group was welcomed by a blind EEO specialist. They were given a demonstration of a space vacuum simulation that was presented by a thermal engineer with a physical impairment. Deaf engineers showed group mockups and test equipment designed for the satellite’s command and data center. For Dale, it was proof positive that persons with disabilities are capable of doing anything they set their minds to, if given the opportunity.