Employers Embrace Hiring of People with Disabilities

The Second Annual Accommodation for Success event was organized to highlight transformative benefits of hiring persons with disabilities and address the fears about employing these individuals. The two-day event took place on August 9 – 10, 2016, at the St. Louis Community College’s Florissant Valley Campus. The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) marked a pivotal moment for the approximately 50 million adults living with mental or physical disabilities nationwide. The employment rate for individuals with disabilities remains at 20 percent but key stakeholders believe this can be improved dramatically – the overall goal of this event.

This year’s Accommodation for Success focused on the successes of hiring people with disabilities. New was a Job Fair, a separate event where job seekers with disabilities had the opportunity to network with the employers. Over 100 individuals, representing estimated 70 different businesses, attended the keynote and panel discussion on August 9. An estimated 229 job seekers, along with 49 participating employers, attended the Job Fair on August 10 – participation beyond everyone’s expectations.

“Employers were enthused by the quality of talent who came,” said Jim Sahaida, SLATE’s Equal Opportunity Officer who helped organize the event. “It was truly phenomenal.” A number of participating businesses were selected by each partnering region and presented with awards for Inclusive Hiring Practices, Supportive Training Environments and Emerging Partnerships. The awards were generously donated by the Missouri Rehabilitation Association (MRA).

“As I stood in the doorway watching all of the job seekers engaging and conversing with the employers, I couldn’t help but be overcome with emotion. What a beautiful sight!” said Richard Coleman, Director of Employment at Center for Head Injury Services.

Initial guests were welcomed by St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, who acknowledged the tremendous regional effort to improve services for disabled citizens of St. Louis County, St. Louis City, Jefferson and Franklin Counties and St. Charles. Stenger also recognized the hard work and participation of many local agencies: “St. Louis County government is proud to partner with MERS/Goodwill, Vocational Rehabilitation, Paraquad, Rehabilitation Services for the Blind, and others in providing this opportunity.”

Truly regional, the event’s extensive list of honorary guests included Andrea Jackson-Jennings, St. Louis County Director of Department of Human Services, Kevin Whirley, St. Louis County Workforce Investment Board Chair (Master of Ceremonies), Yvonne Wright, Director of Workforce Development at Missouri Vocational Rehabilitation, Duane Shumate, Director of Youth Transition & Employment at Missouri Department of Mental Health, Division of Developmental Disabilities, and Michael K. Holmes, Executive Director at SLATE Missouri Job Center on behalf of St. Louis City.

A keynote speaker, Andrew Sartorius, delivered a powerful and inspiring message. An attorney and successful graduate of Starkloff Disability Institute, Sartorius is legally blind and had to learn to advocate for his needs early in his life. Now, he continues to support the disability community, and emphasized personal empowerment: “People with disabilities have to meet halfway for accommodations…Stop hiding behind excuses. Move forward, be bold,” he said.

A highlight was the panel discussion of employers and persons with disabilities they had hired. “I want my employers to know that I have a disability but the disability doesn’t HAVE ME,” said Brandon Morris, a quadriplegic, now working at Centene’s Diversity and Inclusion Division. His supervisor, Alishea Johnson, said: “When people look at Brandon, they see limitations. But he’s NOT limited.” The panel was moderated and thoughtfully led by an Advocacy Specialist with the St. Louis Regional Office, Daniel Mellenthin. Other panelists included Tim Combs, Director of HR at Hyatt Regency at the Arch, Sabina Ademovic, Executive Steward at Hyatt Regency at the Arch and Nate Stevens, Steward at Hyatt Regency at the Arch; Felisha Clay, HR Manager at Embassy Suites in St. Charles and Joseph Hunn, Complimentary Breakfast Utility at Embassy Suites in St. Charles; Charlotte Hammond and Jennifer Trudeau from Challenge Unlimited; and Adriana Borojevic and Angell Farley from Watlow.

The 2016 Accommodations for Success event wouldn’t be possible without the generous support of Gold-level sponsors – US Bank, Kiosite, Ranken Technical College, Challenge Unlimited and SSM Health. In-kind contributions were provided by MERS / Missouri Goodwill (continental breakfast for both days). St. Louis Community College (location), Job News USA (advertising), various Missouri Job Centers, including SLATE (staffing, career workshops), Job Corps (students for parking lots, greeters), and Independent Living Centers, such as Delta Center, Paraquad, Disability Resource Association and others (volunteers and outreach). A Dress for Success mobile trailer was parked nearby for use by participants. The outpouring of support was truly heartwarming.

Special recognition goes to the members of St. Louis Regional Disability Committee who selflessly donated their time and energy to making this event a huge success. The committee consists of individuals from Missouri Job Centers representing St. Charles County, St. Louis County, Jefferson/Franklin Counties, and St. Louis City, Vocational Rehabilitation, MERS/Goodwill, Department of Mental Health, and Challenge Unlimited. Jennifer Trudeau, PR Advocate for Challenge Unlimited, member of St. Louis Regional Disability Committee, said: “People with disabilities constitute the largest minority group… we’ve come a long way, but it’s really these types of events that pave the way to action and transformation for generations to come.”

Update: Check out event’s Photo Gallery

YouTube Video: Keynote Address

IKEA Brings a Transformative Influence to St. Louis

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The St. Louis area’s excitement was palpable when it was announced that IKEA would build a new store within the City’s Midtown / Cortex District, a center of innovation projected to bring more than 10,000 jobs to the community. In addition to providing a wide range of affordable, stylish home products, IKEA’s presence created more than 300 jobs needed to support store operations.

Immediately, the public wanted to know when and how the hiring process would be conducted. In the absence of local HR personronel, IKEA worked closely with SLATE to recruit City residents, working out a hiring process that would ensure equality of access and opportunity.

In all communities in which it operates, IKEA is dedicated to the principle of inclusiveness. Ken Riddick, SLATE’s Business Representative who helped IKEA with outreach, described IKEA’s approach: “It doesn’t matter if they [customers] are rich, poor, white, black, Muslim or Christians – this is who IKEA is as a store. They wanted to bring in [everyone in the] community,” Riddick said.

With SLATE’s help, IKEA was able to reach out to not only people who knew them and loved their products, but those who were eager to apply for jobs. “Through us, IKEA broadened their recruitment outreach, attracting people who brought their family and friends with them to shop there,” said Riddick.

The two organizations hosted four info sessions throughout central St. Louis City, making a special effort to reach the Latino community. IKEA was also one of the largest employers present at a series of jobseeker events within unprivileged African-American communities in North St. Louis, notably the Ferguson 1000 Job Fair. The overall outreach effort was successful, with residents of every one of the City of St. Louis’ 28 Aldermanic Wards participating in IKEA’s hiring.

Riddick said that such unprecedented outreach was unique for St. Louis and couldn’t have been achieved without IKEA working alongside a public workforce agency like SLATE.

“Without SLATE involvement, IKEA would have still successfully filled open positions with quality candidates, but they may not have represented the St. Louis community at large,” Riddick said.

SLATE was able to identify candidates who weren’t familiar with how to apply online on IKEA’s website, and many more didn’t have appropriate resumes or cover letters.

SLATE was able to prepare hundreds of interested applicants for IKEA job opportunities. On the IKEA side, every application that came from SLATE consisted of all the elements they needed to quickly identify the best people for a job.

SLATE hosted interview days at our downtown American Job Center. Riddick said that readiness to help IKEA fulfill its vision in the community, friendliness and comfort of being around people, interacting and patiently serving them – those were qualities of the candidates who ultimately got hired. Most of IKEA’s 335 jobs didn’t require education higher that a High School Diploma.

By bringing quality products and stellar service to the heart of the City of St. Louis, IKEA has had a far-reaching economic impact. “If it wasn’t for IKEA, people from hundreds of miles away wouldn’t have come here. The store has become a destination point, an entertainment, attracting people to come to shop here. It’s transformational from that standpoint because it’s bigger than just a little patch of a 15 mile radius where you put a retail store. Their presence in St. Louis has been phenomenal,” said Riddick.

Joseph Roth, Public Affairs Manager for IKEA, recently expressed his gratitude for SLATE’s help recruiting coworkers entrusted with introducing St. Louisans to the unique IKEA shopping experience.

“Our partnership with SLATE definitely helped ensure we hired coworkers that could create a welcoming environment for all our customers,” Roth said.

The positive results have spurred IKEA to consider replicating its impactful partnership with the St. Louis City public workforce development system in cooperation with planned locations in urban areas, such as the upcoming one in Memphis, TN.

Accommodation for Success Focuses on Employment of Persons with Disabilities

Accommodation for Success

Accommodation for Success seminar

On August 11, 2015, businesses and organizations from across the St. Louis region including SLATE gathered at the St. Louis Community College at Forest Park’s Student Center Café to hold Accommodation for Success. This special event called attention to the ongoing challenge that persons with disabilities face when seeking employment.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the passage of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, the employment rate for those with disabilities remains extremely low at 20 percent, compared to 68.9 percent of people without disabilities. Accommodation for Success is specifically designed to encourage and support businesses to consider persons with disabilities for full-time employment, gathering and explaining all the resources available. SLATE has played a role in reaching out to employers, and has hosted a series of planning meetings in cooperation with the Missouri Dept. of Mental Health, other American Job Centers across the region, members of the St. Louis City Workforce Investment Board, and Vocational Rehabilitation Services, part of the Missouri Dept. of Social Services.

Vendor booth

Vendor booth

Accommodation for Success was attended by over 100 human resources officers from approximately 60 businesses and 30 agencies that provide specialized workplace services for persons with disabilities. Ameren, Anthem, Commerce Bank, Express Scripts, Mercy Health, Monsanto, Paraquad, St. Louis Community College and Washington University were among those participating.

HR representatives took notes as the keynote speaker, Lisa Sterns of the National Disability Institute, delivered her powerful speech about inclusiveness in a work place as a basic condition for humanity. “Chances of you or your loved ones becoming disabled at any point of their life are pretty high,” she said and therefore it pays off to gain a perspective on disability issues. “The best learning experience that you are going to have will come when you actually hire one person with disability.”

The event also featured several break-out sessions, with employer-focused topics including ‘Recruiting Etiquette,’ ‘Sourcing to Find Talent, ‘Accommodations & Assistive Technology,’ and ‘Tax Credits.’ A number of federal initiatives seek to break down barriers to employment of persons with disabilities. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act that funds SLATE now includes a reauthorization of the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) portion of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, with an emphasis on fully integrated work environments.

Accommodation for Success, sparked empathy and interest to create similar forums in other regions. “I’ve now been given a challenge of seeing if we can implement your model in our region,” the EO Officer from Cape Girardeau in Southeast Missouri told SLATE.

Press Release: Regional Workforce Collaborative to Hold Disability Regulations Seminar for Employers