Creating Employment Opportunities by Finding
and Raising Awareness
“Raising awareness that people with disabilities are often an untapped resource in the workforce and have the ability to grow a company’s bottom line is essential to creating employment opportunities. The successful strategies and best practices developed by our grantees are shared nationwide as we work together to increase employment outcomes for this talented population.”
— Elaine Katz, Senior Vice President of Grants & Communications
In 2012, Kessler Foundation awarded a $323,333 Signature Employment Grant to APSE (Association of People Supporting EmploymentFirst) to partner with OfficeMax—now OfficeMax Incorporated, a new company formed through the merger of equals with Office Depot, Inc. (NYSE: ODP)—to launch “Maxing Out Diversity.” The initiative provides job training and career opportunities in retail and distribution centers for people with disabilities who face significant barriers to employment. In 2013, the project celebrated the grand opening of the Aspire CareerLink Training Center, in Illinois, which supplies job training and support through a specialized curriculum to prepare adults with disabilities for meaningful, professional careers. The training will focus on supply chain, warehouse, and retail environments while incorporating OfficeMax’s core values as well as safety, job, and social communication skills.
Finding Solutions by…
Supporting Employment Initiatives
Since 2005, under the direction of Elaine Katz, MS & CCC-SLP, senior vice president of Grants & Communications, Kessler Foundation has invested $30 million in job training and employment programs for people with disabilities. Funding also supports community initiatives that raise awareness of the skills and talents of people with disabilities and eliminating barriers to employment.
“The major projects that we supported this year prove the strength of improving employment for individuals with disabilities when we include everyone—corporations, non-profits, educational institutions and faith communities. Together, we can continue to show the value that employees with disabilities add to the workplace,” said Rodger DeRose, president and chief executive officer of Kessler Foundation.
The Foundation distributed $2.7 million in 2013 to community, job training, and employment initiatives for people with disabilities. Its largest grants—Signature Employment Grants—include:
As the New Jersey area continues to recover and rebuild after Hurricane Sandy, Kessler Foundation pledged its support to people with disabilities impacted by the storm. “People with disabilities lost housing, medical equipment and supplies and accessible vehicles; in essence, they lost their means of independence,” said Mr. DeRose. "This led to lost wages as well as some having to be relocated to temporary housing facilities. Also, the loss of power for days, and even weeks, caused severe health challenges.” The Foundation awarded 29 grants, totaling more than $160,000, in Hurricane Sandy Emergency Grants to organizations that support people with disabilities. Funds supported disability organizations with resuming operations, restoring accessibility, replenishing resources, and equipping facilities with backup generator power. With the funds, organizations also assisted individuals with disabilities impacted by the storm with home and vehicle modification, transportation to accessible group housing, and returned lost wages and medical supplies. Highlights include:
Tracking the Numbers
In March 2013, Kessler Foundation’s Director of Employment and Disability Research John O’Neill, PhD, and Associate Professor of Economics at the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability Andrew Houtenville, PhD, began interpreting the monthly employment data, released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the monthly national Trends in Disability Employment Update (nTIDE), Drs. O’Neill and Houtenville, customize the employment numbers to combine the statistics for working-age men and women (16-64) with and without disabilities. Key indicators analyzed include the employment-to-population ratio (the total number in the population, divided by the total number employed) the labor force participation rate (the number of individuals working or looking for work), and the percentage not in the labor force (not looking for work). The report is distributed nationally and over social media.
Raising Awareness by…
Applying Employment Research
Dr. O’Neill and Amanda Botticello, PhD, MPH, research scientist in Outcomes & Assessment Research at Kessler Foundation, were awarded a five-year, $398,000 subcontract on the University of New Hampshire’s Rehabilitation Research and Training Center grant on Disability Statistics and Demographics (StatsRRTC), funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. Dr. Houtenville is project director of the grant, which totals $4.3 million. The goal of the StatsRRTC is to bridge the divide between the producers and end users of disability statistics by supporting better data collection, more accurate information, better decision-making, more effective programs, and better lives for people with disabilities. Drs. O’Neill and Botticello will collaborate on the following three StatsRRTC research projects:
Comprehensive Taxonomy of Employment Supports and Services – Because past research indicated problems in the wording of the questions and context of data collection, this project will develop new streamlined approaches to collecting information on vocational rehabilitation (VR) employment services. Through this research, services provided and employment outcomes for individuals can be more accurately tracked.
Vocational Rehabilitation Services and Employment – Because the caseloads for the Social Security Administration (SSA) have tripled since 1980, there is great interest in finding ways to improve financial self-sufficiency among people with disabilities. This project will estimate the effect of VR on employment and earnings for SSA beneficiaries.
The Disability Belt – Geographic disparities exist both within and across people with and without disabilities, particularly in the “disability belt” of Appalachia and the lower Mississippi Valley. This study will investigate disparities in the geographic concentration of people with disabilities, Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiaries, and Supplemental Security Income recipients to track the trends, and the factors that contribute to these trends over time.
Because Drs. O’Neill and Botticello’s work addresses highly relevant and current policy issues, it is likely the data will be used by policymakers to make informed decisions about the programs and policies that impact people with disabilities. With the evidence, government leaders will assess the effectiveness of employment programs, determine where improvements can be made, and which areas need more services.
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, convened 35 leading disability advocates, including many Kessler Foundation employment grantees and injured former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand—to discuss strategies to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) at Kessler’s West Orange campus. The CRPD provides a framework for the rights of individuals with disabilities across the world, based on values of dignity, respect, independence, and reasonable accommodations. The CRPD, which is based on American constitutional values and guidelines set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act, would set a standard that would benefit people with disabilities in other countries, as well as Americans with disabilities traveling and working abroad.
$450,000 grant to Ability Beyond, in Bethel, Connecticut, to expand a disability employment initiative with PepsiCo, called Pepsi ACT (Achieving Change Together). Pepsi ACT will maximize company efficiency, while increasing the hiring and retention of people with disabilities throughout PepsiCo’s US business.
$412,000 grant to Easter Seals Greater Washington-Baltimore Region to expand Veteran Staffing Network (VSN)—a social enterprise employment agency for veterans with and without disabilities. VSN enables all veterans, wounded warriors, reservists, National Guardsmen, and their spouses to pursue their self-defined career paths and obtain meaningful, lasting employment.
$437,888 grant to San Diego State University Research Foundation to expand the project, “Bridging the Gap from College to Careers”—an initiative to increase employment outcomes for college graduates with disabilities. Mentorships, internships, work experience, and job development will be provided to college students in their final years of undergraduate studies.
$449,961 grant to Vanderbilt University Kennedy Center, in Nashville, Tennessee, to expand “Putting Faith to Work”—an initiative to equip faith communities with tools to support employment for their members with disabilities. Through this project, faith communities will build their capacity to address employment needs of their members with disabilities, connect them with job opportunities in their fields of interest, and provide individualized support.
Creating Lasting Change
Also in 2012, Kessler Foundation awarded a $500,000 Signature Employment Grant to the Center for Head Injury Services, in St. Louis, Missouri, to establish Destination Desserts—a social enterprise to expand job training and employment opportunities for individuals with brain injury and other cognitive learning disabilities. Following the trend of a mobile unit that brings products directly to customers, Destination Desserts purchased a food truck and decorated it with pictures of their tempting treats. The enterprise prepares individuals with disabilities for lasting careers in the food industry. Trainees learn about food preparation, sanitation, and safety protocols and learn the various jobs at Destination Desserts. Employees with disabilities work side-by-side with those without disabilities and earn equal, market-rate wages. Once their training is complete, they are either hired by Destination Desserts or the Center markets their new skills to other potential employers in the community.
The storm destroyed the first floor of the home of 63-year-old Filippa, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a power wheelchair. She had no choice but to relocate to a nursing home. Through a grant to Heightened Independent Living, construction commenced and, four months later, Filippa returned to her renovated home with her family.
Key findings of nTIDE reports in 2013:
The first three months showed positive results. When compared with the corresponding month of the previous year, the labor force participation rate and employment-to-population ratio increased for people with disabilities, while remaining relatively unchanged for those without disabilities.
The next three months gave mixed results. There were slight declines in the two indicators among Americans with disabilities, which remained flat for Americans without disabilities.
The last three months of the year showed a steady decline for working-age Americans with disabilities finding employment. The two indicators decreased for people with disabilities and increased for those without disabilities. Findings proved the importance of continuing research and supporting innovative solutions that expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
Reasons for Optimism: There are reasons to believe that Americans with disabilities will gain ground in narrowing the employment gap, including:
Organizations such as Kessler Foundation, are offering funding to launch job training and employment initiatives for people with disabilities.
Public-private partnerships, in which corporations and nonprofits are collaborating to develop strategies and programs to create a universally accessible and inclusive workforce.
Federal benchmarks are setting hiring standards for government contractors to hire individuals with disabilities and encourage the hiring of veterans.
As baby boomers are aging out of the workforce, the need for qualified, skilled workers is growing, which creates opportunities for people with disabilities.
“At Kessler Foundation, we see firsthand the contributions that people with disabilities can make when given the opportunity. Through our rehabilitation research and our funding of disability employment initiatives, more people with disabilities are leading productive lives, participating more fully in their communities and the workplace. Shouldn’t all people with disabilities enjoy the opportunities that most of us take for granted, no matter where they live? The United States should be at the forefront of upholding this moral standard in the international community.”
– Rodger DeRose, president and chief executive officer of Kessler Foundation
Extending Community and Media Outreach
Kessler Foundation is committed to raising awareness of the talents that people with disabilities add to the workplace, and to society, through conferences and media outreach. Highlights from 2013 include:
To share the message that all people with disabilities deserve equal access and opportunities for employment, Mr. DeRose, published op-eds in the influential congressional daily paper, The Hill, and on NJ.com. The publications addressed the importance of ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and providing work opportunities for people with disabilities that benefit the economy and society.
Hurricane Sandy ruined equipment at Hudson Community Enterprises (HCE), a document management social enterprise based in Jersey City that employs people with disabilities. With a grant from the Foundation, HCE purchased a new server and equipment so that employees could return to work. Kessler Foundation has supported HCE since 2005; since then, it has grown into a $4 million business with 125 employees, with 70 percent having disabilities.
On CNBC’s Power Lunch, Mr. DeRose discussed why employing people with disabilities is a good business decision, how Kessler Foundation is expanding opportunities through funding disability employment initiatives, the current employment environment for people with disabilities, and common myths that discourage employers from hiring jobseekers with disabilities. He was joined by Walgreens CEO Gregory Wasson. In the Walgreens distribution centers that made a concerted effort to hire people with disabilities, productivity, dedication, and safety ratings increased, while absenteeism and turnover decreased.