National competition challenges employers on disability inclusion

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Individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities have historically been overlooked in the job market due to the mistaken belief that they are unable to perform certain work tasks. But one government agency is working to dispel that myth, by challenging employers to expand their recruiting and retention programs to better include workers with disabilities.

The Administration for Community Living, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has created a competition for businesses to compete for cash prizes by submitting plans to help employers nationwide reach a wider talent pool and create more employment opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental challenges.

“American businesses are looking for diverse and inclusive workplaces,” says Julie Hocker, commissioner of the ACL’s Administration on Disabilities. “The reality is that some of them aren’t sure how to get started.”

The competition, which is being run for the first time, is meant to be that stepping point, Hocker says, and will take place in three rounds, with the first phase ending Feb. 14, when all businesses must have their proposals submitted. ACL and a panel of judges will choose up to five businesses from the submissions who will win a small cash prize and move on to round two of the challenge.

The second phase will see the chosen businesses pilot their programs through August, giving them time to connect with ACL-provided coaches and to hire summer interns from a pool of candidates with disabilities. The businesses will be matched with mentors, associations for people with disabilities and other companies that have solved similar issues as the summer program rolls out.

At the end of August the businesses will go before a panel of judges to discuss the program, showcasing what they learned from their experience, the success of the employees and the overall results. Two to three finalists will join ACL in Washington, D.C. in October — national disability awareness month — when a grand prize winner will be awarded $100,000.

“This is a tool that companies have used to increase underrepresented groups like women and veterans. Why not use that same tool for people with disabilities?” Hocker asks.

There are benefits for employers who are more inclusive of employees with disabilities. Besides improving employee retention and engagement, disability inclusive companies can gain as much as 28% higher revenue, according to data from Accenture. Inclusive companies can double their net income and yield 30% higher economic profit margins than their peers.

See Also: Busting the myths around disability inclusive workplaces

Some employers are recognizing this benefit and encouraging their peers to make disability inclusion part of their 2020 strategy. At the beginning of the year CEOs from Voya Financial, Accenture, CVS Health, Intel, Microsoft and Walmart sent a letter urging 1,000 Fortune CEOs to adopt this strategy.

Hocker herself is a prime example. Born with osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease, Hocker has had over 150 fractures in her lifetime and uses a wheelchair to get around. She started interning through a program for disabled students to be connected to early job opportunities when she was 14 years old.

“It really began to dispel this myth that for me as a person with a significant disability, it would be hard for me to find a job,” Hocker says.

Hocker was nominated by President Trump in January to the position of assistant secretary for the Department of Labor, where she will lead the Office of Disability Employment Policy.

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