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A place, job for everyone

Hiring those with disabilities can contribute to a company’s overall success

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October 19, 2022

OSHKOSH – The Center for Disease Control estimates there are approximately 61 million adults (1 in 4) in the United States who live with a disability of one kind or another.

And if children and young adults were included in that count, the number would be considerably higher.

Supporting these individuals as they find their place in the workplace, Rose White, community support supervisor at Lakeland Care, – a Fond du Lac nonprofit that provides long-term care services and supports to eligible frail elders and individuals with disabilities through Wisconsin’s Family Care program – is not only the right thing to do but can also be beneficial to a company’s overall success.

Recently, Lakeland organized an “All Abilities Job and Resource Fair” in Oshkosh during National Disability Employment Awareness Month, with the goal of supporting those with disabilities looking for work.

National Disability Employment Awareness Month is held annually in October and acknowledges the contributions to the nation’s economy made by workers with disabilities, current and past.

It also showcases supportive and inclusive policies and practices benefiting workers and employers.

The 2022 theme was “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation.”

 “For employers, the energy and dedication this workforce brings is unmatched, and often employees with disabilities contribute greatly to a positive company culture,” White said.

She said individuals with disabilities have abilities and strengths that they bring to the workforce, just like anybody else that wants to work.

“We believe people of all abilities that want to work, can work,” she said. “We all have challenges to one degree or another. It’s how we manage those challenges and the tools we use to do so determines how effective we are in the work we do. Whatever position a person (with a disability) gets hired to do, usually matches their abilities, strengths and interests. That’s no different from the rest of the workforce.”

Finding a good fit
Approximately 20 employers took part in the job and resource fair – one of them being Evergreen Retirement Community.
Kendra Arguello, employment coordinator at Evergreen, said it was great to see so many employers at the event who are willing to work with staff with different abilities. 

“Hiring someone with a different type of ability is no different than anyone else,” she said. “Everybody has different skill levels and that’s not just related to people who qualify as being disabled in one way or another.”

Arguello said some positions at Evergreen that are typically done by people with a disability or unique challenge would include things in the housekeeping and food service departments.

“We also have hospitality aide positions where they can assist our CNAs,” she said. ‘They’re not doing hands-on medical care, but they are doing tasks that assist our CNAs that can help save them time. It might be passing out water to residents, changing bedding or even visiting with residents at times. That could even include going through and reading the residents’ mail with them or doing activities with them if there’s time.”

Approximately 20 employers took part in the job and resource fair including Lakeland Care, Old Navy (Oshkosh), Hilton Garden Inn, Pick ‘n Save, Shawano Medical Transport, Starstruck Artistry Beauty Studio and VPI. Submitted Photo

Arguello said it’s not uncommon for disabled employees at Evergreen to have a job coach who comes to work with them and helps them in many ways on the job.

She said initially, that coach might help them complete paperwork and assist with the training process, as well as help them get comfortable in their position or stay focused and on task.

Arguello said the length of time the coach stays depends on each specific situation.

“Coaches provide that extra level of support for the employee…,” she said. “Job coaches want their clients to succeed and they’re just one more person in the employee’s corner, and that never hurts.”

Arguello said Evergreen is willing to work with anyone.

“See what their skill levels might be – that may take some time, and we may eventually move someone into another role (if it looks like they might fit better somewhere else), just like with any employee,” she said. “Job partnering and customizing a position to fit someone’s abilities may take a little more time, but in the end, it can be worth it. And it’s not as hard as you might think.”

The Old Navy retail store from Oshkosh also took part in the fair.

Tasha Van Hout, the store manager, said she was excited about being part of this resource and job fair because it aligns so well with the store’s own corporate culture.

Van Hout said Old Navy has a corporate program called “This Way Onward” (TWO), which helps provide opportunities for people who are disabled and youth in the community who aren’t always given opportunities.

“This (event) was a great outreach program – different from what we’ve typically done – to be able to reach more of those students or youth, and the disabled in the community and let them know that we are hiring,” she said. “We can have positions available within our store that are sometimes different from what people typically think of when they think about retail.”

Within the TWO program, Van Hout said the Oshkosh store has one employee who has a job coach who helps her do her job and stay on task.

“This young lady is typically on our truck team, so she’s here early mornings before the store opens,” she said. “When product comes in, her team opens boxes and gets the product out to the floor. Depending on skill set and ability, if someone is able to interact and talk with customers, we can have them out on the sales floor doing recovery, refolding clothing and that kind of thing. Some people we’ve even taught to work in the fitting rooms using iPads to check pricing and things like that, as well.”

Van Hout said their entire retail floor is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Our walkways and paths in between fixtures – so really the whole retail floor – must be ADA-compliant,” she said. “That, of course, benefits our customers who are handicapped, especially if they’re in a wheelchair, but it also benefits any people we hire who may be in a wheelchair or use a scooter or something along those lines.”

Van Hout said the store also has registers that adjust up and down.

“People have to be able to do the job they were hired for, but we have different kinds of positions that we can hire for,” she said.

Other companies that participated in the job and resource fair include: 4Imprint, Ascension Mercy Hospital, Brotoloc North, Dunkin’/Baskin Robbins, Evergreen Retirement Community, Festival Foods, Goodwill NCW, Hilton Garden Inn, Pick ‘n Save, Shawano Medical Transport, Starstruck Artistry Beauty Studio and VPI.

Community connection
Patti Kimball, transition skills manager for the Oshkosh Area School District, said the district not only trains its special education students to work in the community but also has a mobile food truck and Brewing Futures Mobile CAFE (Coaching Ability For Employment) and Eats that is not only a type of hands-on, working classroom on wheels, which she said showcases to the community how capable the students are.

Kimball manages the food truck and the three cafes within the high schools – two at Oshkosh West and one at Oshkosh North.
“The students have to fill out all the paperwork necessary when someone starts a job,” she said. “So, that’s another skill these kids learn. It’s no different than if they were applying for and working at a job in the community somewhere.”

Debuting in June of this year, Kimball said the mobile classroom is the first of its kind in the U.S.

She said it not only provides real-life working opportunities to students with special needs but allows them to interact with people in the community in a meaningful way.

Kimball said the food truck has been requested for nearly 50 public and private events thus far.

In its inaugural year, she said there have been 23 students employed on the truck, each working two to three hours at a time, and rotating turns throughout the year.

“The food truck is a way to extend our cafes, if you will, out into the community,” she said. “And it gives us a chance to do some job coaching with students who are very soon going to be applying for jobs in the community.”

Kimball said they have found that there is a big gap between what they know these kids can do and what the community thinks they can do.

“These are the people who are going to be hiring these kids after they get out of high school,” she said. “So we decided to take what we do well and take it out into the community where people can see it, and hopefully they will better understand the abilities of our kids.”

Diverse workforce
Kimball said employers who hire people with disabilities can benefit in several ways, including:
Discovering untapped potential.Reducing their turnover.Improving their public image.Improving employee morale and their corporate culture.Potentially qualify for state and federal financial incentives and tax deductions. 
“Employers have said that having a diverse work culture has improved their overall culture within their organization,” White said. “I think it provides greater understanding and being supportive of people coming from all areas of life.”

She said Lakeland’s core values are kindness, inclusion and trust.

“I think we see (those) projected within the employers who are also hiring people with disabilities,” White said. “There’s a greater sense of community within organizations that hire people with disabilities.”

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