Looking to increase small businesses’ capacity to recruit and retain people with disabilities in your community? Whether you’re just starting out or looking for ways to enhance already existing efforts, there are several steps you can take.
Helen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” It’s a sentiment that undoubtedly rings true in the area of workforce development, where strong community partnerships can be the key to helping small businesses recruit and hire people with disabilities.
Business associations are in a powerful position to help their small business members learn about exemplary disability employment practices and take steps toward hiring qualified individuals, especially at the local level. And partnerships and alliances often hold the key to success. For example, some business associations partner with other like-minded business groups (e.g., some chambers of commerce choose to partner with local Business Leadership Network chapters, which are non-profits that help businesses leverage disability inclusion in the workplace, supply chain and marketplace). Business groups can also form alliances with disability service providers, independent living centers or American Job Centers within their communities, which can serve as fruitful recruitment resources.
Once these partnerships are formed, business associations can perform a range of activities to promote disability inclusion by their members—from formal job placement programs to simple educational events and awareness building campaigns about disability inclusion.
Small businesses are known for tapping into the value of interns, and research shows that employers who have internships for people with disabilities are 4.5 times more likely to hire a person with a disability than those who do not. However, many individual small business owners may not have the time to invest in seeking out interns or coordinating an internship program. With this in mind, business associations can serve an important role by taking on the necessary activities to connect their member businesses to interns with disabilities.
Such efforts can be as simple as directing members to recruitment sources such as the Workforce Recruitment Program, a free referral service that connects employers to qualified intern candidates with disabilities. Other business associations choose to partner with local service providers to host job fairs and job matching programs for student interns with disabilities, while others have gone as far as to sponsor their own internship programs, working to place interns with member businesses directly. Regardless of what form they take, such efforts can deliver a unique member benefit, while promoting a culture of disability inclusion in your local community.
As a business association, member education is likely to be a core part of your mission. You are therefore well positioned to help educate your member businesses on the value and benefits of fostering an inclusive, disability-friendly workplace. Many business groups offer such education in the form of events and professional development opportunities, such as the following:
- Classroom-style educational breakfasts or “lunch-and-learns”
- Networking events
- Online training modules
- Job fairs
- Disability mentoring days
There are a host of disability employment topics that can be covered during such events, which are easy-to-plan thanks to free content and training modules offered by numerous organizations. Potential topics for these events include:
- Disability Employment 101 & The Disability Dividend
- Communicating with Colleagues and Job Seekers with Disabilities
- The Value of Interns with Disabilities
- Understanding Workplace Accommodations
- Accessible Technology Considerations for Employers
- Inclusive Employment Strategies for Small Businesses
- Retention & the Value of Workplace Flexibility
- Increasing Your Eligibility for Federal Contracts by Hiring People with Disabilities: Understanding Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act
- Employer Tax Incentives for Hiring People with Disabilities
For a timely and relevant “hook,” you might consider hosting such events in October during National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Some business associations also choose to partner with other community organizations or service groups to co-host these types of events.
In today’s business world, immeasurable value is derived from peer-to-peer knowledge sharing. That’s why networking opportunities and business leadership circles are so crucial, and why business associations play such a vital role in facilitating knowledge sharing among members.
Your organization can take that role a step further by connecting member businesses with other business leaders who have successfully hired and benefited from employees with disabilities. After all, hearing first-hand experiences and satisfied testimonials from other respected business leaders can serve as a powerful endorsement for proactively pursuing disability diversity.
As a first step, a business association might recruit two to three members as disability employment “champions”—employers that have had successful experiences recruiting, hiring and advancing employees with disabilities—and then ask those individuals to serve as points of contact for others interested in learning more. During National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October (or any other opportune time), you could host a meet-and-greet event to connect member businesses with those champions, and with other disability-related service providers.
Other ideas include forming an advisory member committee, which functions much like an affinity group devoted to disability and diversity issues, or matching members with mentors who can help guide their disability inclusion efforts. Ultimately, the experiences of your designated champions can be featured in media and communications activities designed to raise awareness around the issue of disability employment. As an example, the South Dakota Retailers Association has taken the step of creating a video about disability inclusion, in which its leadership expresses strong commitment and several members speak about their experiences employing people with disabilities.
Communication is at the heart of every awareness raising effort—including campaigns designed to promote workplaces that are inclusive of people with disabilities. By leveraging new and traditional media, business associations can tell an important story about disability inclusion and shape the attitudes and behaviors of their member businesses for the better.
After pursuing the other engagement strategies described throughout the Steps to Success, your association should talk about it. Widely promote your commitment to disability employment, your members’ positive experiences, your workforce development programs, and the topic in general through your organization’s channels, and those of your partners.
While efforts can be made at any time of the year, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) offers a timely hook for engaging in proactive outreach. Ideas include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Send a “President’s Message” or blog post about NDEAM — Association leaders can take advantage of NDEAM to send a special e-mail to members encouraging them to participate and providing information about how they can do so. Alternatively (or in addition), NDEAM could be incorporated into speeches or the President’s column in your organization’s monthly publication.
- Develop a disability employment webpage — NDEAM is a great time to unveil a dedicated disability employment webpage for members listing tools and resources (including the Steps to Success) to help them understand related issues and implement steps to foster a disability inclusive workplace.
- Distribute NDEAM posters — In today’s world of electronic communication, sending something useful and tangible to members can make an impact and reinforce the value of association membership. Associations can use the occasion of NDEAM to send their members a poster to hang in employee break areas or other locations that employees frequent to promote a positive, inclusive message.
- Solicit an NDEAM proclamation — Your organization and its partners can cultivate community-wide support for NDEAM by asking your mayor, governor or other official to formally proclaim the event. A template that organizations can easily customize is available to assist in soliciting such a proclamation.
- Reach out to local media — NDEAM presents an opportunity to increase your visibility through local TV, radio and print media. Ideas include writing an op-ed piece or letter to the editor about the value and talent people with disabilities have to offer in the workplace and community or encouraging local TV or radio news to run a feature on one or more of your members observing the month.