Industry Professionals Discuss Best Practices for Hiring People with Disabilities

Salt Lake City—Businesses looking for ways to hire and retain employees with disabilities got a chance to see innovations regarding those topics at the day-long 2016 Bottom Line of Disabilities event, held last Friday at the Columbus Community Center.

The event included a keynote speech from noted author and Colorado State University professor Dr. Temple Grandin, as well as panels with topics regarding social responsibility and intentional communities. At one breakout session, representatives from the Columbus Community Center, as well as from Zions Bank, Intermountain Healthcare and the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation discussed the best practices for hiring and retaining employees with disabilities.

The Columbus Community Center has programs for training individuals with disabilities and places them within partner organizations to receive extra training and gain work experience. Rich Bott, of Intermountain Healthcare, says the partnership between the hospital and the community center has been effective.

“We have had for almost 10 years a group of 20 or so individuals that have come out from Columbus. It’s been a really good, successful program,” said Bott, who went on to say that in the central laundry program he oversees, at least eight individuals with disabilities have moved on from the program to be fully independent and employed.

The key to the successful employment of individuals with disabilities, according to Nancy Imhoff, director of support and employment at Columbus Community Center and Dylan McDonnell, contract services program manager at the center, is the individualization of training programs. Understanding that each individual is different, each level of disability is different, seems like common sense, but it’s something many employers (and potential co-workers) miss when hiring individuals with disabilities.

“Despite the fact that some of our people have a disability where they prefer to do something over and over again, not everyone’s brains are made that way. Some of the folks with disabilities are much higher functioning than others,” said Imhoff. “It’s helpful to watch where they are and look for opportunities to what they can add to and what they can do next… I like to think of the McDonalds where we have somebody placed—the whole team embraces them there. Everybody has their idiosyncrasies and they all have sense of humor about that. So they’re able to accept somebody who is different.”

The program can also be tailored to an individual’s needs for supervision, support and skills, McDonnell said.

“Once somebody is hired, we bring them on to the contract at Columbus first, where they can get to know people, get to know how to properly interact with those around them, as well as coworkers,” said McDonnell. “[We put them in a program] where we can have a little bit more of a thumb on them if we need to or give them a little bit more space… From the very beginning, we tell them: our goal is to get you out of here and into another job. We want you making more money, getting in better places, always improving. We always want to work with each person on an individual scale. We talk openly and honestly about their strengths and their weaknesses.”

If companies are having trouble understanding their employees, Leah Lobato, director of the Governor’s Committee On Employment Of People With Disabilities, says not to be afraid of reaching out and asking tough questions.

“I don’t offend easily,” she laughed. “I think fear is one of the biggest factors for businesses…that fear of maybe not knowing how to communicate with or about people with disabilities, or that fear that they’re going to do something that might bring the ADA upon them. I talk about the ADA and how it’s actually supportive to business partners. It gives you a clear idea and picture of what you can and can’t do in the realm of disabilities. It’s not put there to cause problems for a business, but to give you clear guidelines.”

In hiring individuals with disabilities, Lobato stressed that companies shouldn’t feel taken advantage of, or like they’re performing a charity to the community. Instead, companies should consider disabled individuals as simply good, hard workers who will do their best at their jobs.

“Be careful about approaching a business with the charity approach, [that] it’s the right thing to do, or it’s going to make you feel so great to do this. That’s not something I’ve found to be successful at all,” she said. “It’s always about the quality employee that you can provide to the business, the quality of this individual and their skill sets and what they bring to the table.”