Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities recently announced its 2016 Opportunity Awards winners, which recognizes and highlights Ohio companies committed to providing employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
Meijer was named a Champion of Opportunity for its work in the southwest Ohio region, where the company has face-to-face contact with potential applicants and gives them tours of their facilities. This helps to provide quality vocational guidance for every candidate.
Creating Opportunity Award winners in Greater Cincinnati include:
Hayneedle Distribution Center, Monroe
Koch Foods Inc, Fairfield
Krispy Kreme, Cincinnati
Kroger Market Place, Cincinnati
Mac’s Pizza and Pub, Maineville
Rodizio Grill, Liberty Township
Trade Global, West Chester
Xscape Theaters Northgate Mall, Cincinnati
These awards seek to recognize companies at various levels in the process: from those who have just begun to recruit, hire, and retain individuals with disabilities to those with a proven track record of integrating individuals with disabilities into their work force. See a full list on the OOD website.
But their love for each other and necessity to work together meant finding a very accommodating employer, which was tricky. “They are just really, really close. Been together their whole lives…never been apart. It was a struggle to find employment because they would have to take on two,” Puckett remarks. “They wanted to work the same shifts.”
Enter Michael Williams, owner and director at R.M. Funeral Services. As a student at Ohio University in Athens, Williams saw a young man with developmental disabilities working at a Wendy’s and vowed that if he started a business, he would do what he could to employ a person with developmental disabilities.
As a small business owner, he was wearing a lot of hats. In addition to cleaning and upkeep around his facility, he was performing all of the day to day business operations. He reached the point when cleaning and general maintenance, which he views as paramount to the success of his business, was falling to the backburner. “Cleaning is a constant. The busier we are, the more cleaning. We want to make sure that our facility is top notch for families,” stresses Williams.
The Cade sisters were matched with R.M. Funeral Services by Employment First Job Coach Ashley Darling and have been employed since March of 2016, working two days a week. Their hard work, earnestness, and attention to detail led to even more work from Williams, such as gardening, and property and building maintenance.
“Once I developed a relationship with them, I knew they would do a great job. There is always something that can be done,” Williams comments. “I wish I could get some of the other business owners here to jump on board. It’s beneficial for [them], beneficial for the person with special needs, and it benefits the customers.”
In addition to cleaning at R.M., the sisters have a great fondness for gardening, and work at a greenhouse. They also clean for other businesses as needed. In their free time, the sisters solve a lot of jigsaw puzzles, and love watching the Ohio University Bobcats play football and basketball.
“Employment First is exemplified by the cooperation of multiple agencies, supports provided through the VCBDD, and the desire of a local business to hire to people’s strengths,” says Tina Spanos from VCBDD. “That is what provided the Cades the springboard to success [at] their jobs.”
The Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities (DODD) oversees a statewide system of supports and services for people with developmental disabilities and their families. The agency’s mission is continuous improvement of the quality of life for Ohio’s citizens with developmental disabilities and their families.
Without question, 19-year-old Aurora Hobden said, she wants to land a job. The prospect both thrills and frightens her.
Will she be able to manage her emotions? Follow procedures? Multi-task?
“What might be hard is handling the pressure,” Hobden said. “Being able to know what you’re supposed to do and do it and maybe be good at it.”
Aurora Hobden, left, and Hunter Kleman take part in an exercise at Greenleaf Job Training Services. (Photo by Kyle Robertson for The Columbus Dispatch)
The Upper Arlington resident is among thousands of Ohioans with developmental disabilities whose path to employment no longer leads — at least not automatically — to a spot in a sheltered workshop. State and federal policies that aim to sharply decrease reliance on programs considered “segregated” are steering more and more would-be workers to jobs in the community.
But that transition, no matter how welcome, can be overwhelming. Many of those seeking work spent years in special-education classes and programs where expectations were gentle and nontypical appearances and behaviors didn’t stand out.
“There are certain things that are accepted in those environments that won’t be in the community,” said Jessica Schollenberger, an instructor and job developer at Greenleaf Job Training Services in Clintonville. She’s helping Hobden and a handful of other young adults enrolled in a new class at Greenleaf that is designed to focus on the soft skills that often make or break job success for people with disabilities.
These services help individuals with disabilities find a job and be more independent. This involves deciding if a person is eligible, setting an employment goal, putting the goal into a plan, and getting the job services and training needed to get a job. Job coaching and other employment services may also be involved.
More than 40 people attended the Nov. 17 Workforce Solutions Summit to learn from businesses about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities.
“We want to bring more people with disabilities into gainful employment, and this has to be part of our strategy,” said Mary Stagaman, senior inclusion adviser for the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber. “There are many barriers to employment but that does not mean unemployable.”
Stagaman, who provided the keynote speech, said people with disabilities have diverse experiences and businesses can benefit from this pool of talent.
Fifth Third Bank utilized Project Search, a business-led school-to-work transition program, to find employees with disabilities and expand hiring, said Program Manager Mitch Morgan.
He added employee engagement has improved by having people with disabilities on staff. For example, Morgan said, one year after Fifth Third hired two Project Search graduates, that department had a 30 percent increase in regular attendance at work.
“We pursued learning and best practices, and did our homework for what skills are needed and train people to do that job,” he said. “It took a long time to get to a point to justify the business case. You can have challenges with any employee, and it’s important to create a match for the position.”
Kings Island also adopts the practice of finding the right employee for each job, whether it is in food service, games, admissions or elsewhere. The amusement park has been hiring people with disabilities for years, setting special interview days and finding the best fit.
“They have an overwhelming pride in their work and love the job,” said Diann Shafer from Kings Island. “Our guests respond positively and enjoy seeing them around the park.”
Warren County Probate and Juvenile Court Judge Joseph Kirby also has experienced benefits after hiring someone with a disability to help gather files for cases. “Her motivation and enthusiasm are contagious,” he said. Small adaptations for her, like using a cart to collect files or having an alphabet chart, have been adopted by other employees.
At ThyssenKrupp Bilstein in Butler County, they’ve hired 14 people with disabilities. “It’s a pool of untapped talent,” said Paul Meintel, who works with the company’s aftermarket group. “It’s a secret boon because they bring so much to the table,” he said.
Having discussions and hearing from other business leaders helps because familiarity starts to remove the idea of “other,” which Stagaman said is vital as Cincinnati’s businesses continue to grow and look for new workforce talent.
Matt Disher of Cintas and Lauren Todd of ViaQuest moderated the panel. The County Boards of Developmental Disabilities in Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren counties partnered for this regional event at the Crowne Plaza in Blue Ash.
Nineteen-year-old Anne, a recent high school graduate, was greeted by OOD Director Kevin Miller.
Chris with CVS employees Carla Hawkins and Winnie Jeffrey.
Cintas employees Matt Birkenhauer, Faiza Askari and Stacey Callos.
Matching qualified candidates with employers is what Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) is all about. OOD kicked off National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) with a job fair in Cincinnati this week. This event featured 251 OOD job seekers with disabilities interacting with 48 area employers looking to fill vacant positions.
OOD’s regional job fairs provide individuals with disabilities opportunities to connect with employers. The job fairs also raise awareness with employers about the benefits of hiring individuals with disabilities by providing Windmills educational workshops to help Ohio businesses recruit a diverse workforce.
For job-ready candidates, making personal connections with employers at the job fairs has a big impact. Chris, a job seeker from Cincinnati, was excited to see so many possible job opportunities, but was especially pleased with CVS. “I was offered a pharmacy technician position at a CVS in Cincinnati on the spot!” he said.
Employers thought the day was well organized and job seekers were prepared and qualified. Cintas employee Faiza Askari said, “There are a lot of interested people who are very involved and engaged. Everybody is well prepared to look for a job.”
This team of Cintas Human Resources employees frequently participate in job fairs and were surprised that for the first time, they ran out of flyers. “These people really came here to find jobs,” said Stacey Callos.
Many organizations in Cincinnati are encouraging local businesses to consider hiring adults with developmental disabilities, and the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati (DSAGC) is no different. A recently released video highlights the abilities people with DD make in the local workforce.
“We really want to see ourselves as catalysts to encourage employers … to open their minds to the possibility of hiring adults with Down syndrome and really give them a chance,” said Jim Hudson, executive director of DSAGC.