Accommodation for Success Reverse Job Fair Turns Tables for Job Seekers with Disabilities

06-participant-webThe Third Annual Accommodation for Success Disability Employment Event took place on August 10, 2017, at the Forest Park Campus of St. Louis Community College. The event was organized to make it easier for area businesses to build diverse workforce. This year, the event included the first Reverse Job Fair in St. Louis.

Unlike most traditional job fairs, this innovative recruitment event focused on showcasing talents and professional interests of 80+ job candidates with disabilities. Participants met with potential employers in their booth spaces, demonstrating experience and skills in a variety of industries, while human resource professionals roamed the room, meeting the candidates they were interested in hiring. More than 116 recruiters representing 99 area companies were present. With 236 total registrants, not including job candidates, this year’s event was the largest yet.

Accommodation for Success event is a collaborative effort between the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE), regional job centers, and more than 20 of the region’s disability employment organizations. Workshops and resources on disability inclusion, etiquette, recruitment, and workplace culture were offered to registered businesses, prior to the reverse job fair.

Earlier in the day, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson greeted the attendees and delivered a keynote address. She acknowledged regional efforts to improve services for disabled citizens, and encouraged the employers to take a hard look. State Representative Sarah Unsicker also attended the event.

A number of participating businesses were selected by each partnering region and presented with awards for Emerging Partner, Exceptional Supporter of Inclusive Practices, and Outstanding Inclusive Employer; awards were presented by Suzanne Waha of Schenker Inc., and Sandy Keyser, Department of Mental Health, Division of Developmental Disabilities.

The 2017 Accommodation for Success event wouldn’t be possible without the generous support of its Gold-level sponsor – SSM Health. In-kind contributions were provided by St. Louis Community College (space at no cost), MERS/Goodwill (continental breakfast), the Starkloff Disability Institute and St. Louis ARC (boot camp for job seekers), and the Human Resource Management Association of Greater St. Louis (professional credits for workshop attendees).

Special recognition goes to the Accommodation for Success planning committee whose dedicated and selfless work made this event such a huge success. Implementing the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), SLATE recently undertook measures to improve the delivery of services for disabled individuals. Furniture was repositioned to allow wheelchairs to pass freely and a specialty day (Thursday) was selected to specifically address employment and training needs of ADA and older worker customers.

“This annual event marked a pivotal moment for thousands of adults living with mental or physical disabilities in our City. The large percentage of people living in poverty is disabled; I believe their true economic independence should begin with giving them access to jobs,” said Dr. Alice Prince, SLATE’s newly appointed Executive Director.

For more information, please view news coverage aired on KSDK/Channel 5 on August 10, 2017:
http://www.ksdk.com/news/local/reverse-job-fair-connects-st-louisans-with-disabilities-to-employers/463488041

Also, an interview of two planning committee members aired on STL TV Live, on August 7, 2017:
Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFNS9udTp9I
Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZD0ALRNJBU

A photo gallery from Accommodation for Success event can be found here:
https://www.stlouis-mo.gov/government/departments/slate/media/accommodation-for-success-2017.cfm

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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