In recognition of Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia joined JEVS Human Services, a leader in connecting job seekers with employment opportunities for more than 80 years, to host a panel discussion about the changing career landscape for people living with disabilities in times of COVID. The program entitled “The Changing Landscape: Work and Inclusion for Persons with Disabilities” focused on the efforts being made in career advancement and inclusion for people with disabilities throughout the pandemic and future opportunities.

“We at the JCRC are thrilled to be working with JEVS, one of Jewish Federation’s grantees, this year to showcase their efforts to provide inclusion and equity in the disability community,” said Jason Holtzman, director of JCRC. “It is our honor and responsibility as the Jewish Federation to continually strive toward a more accepting, diverse and inclusive future, where Jewish spaces are welcoming for all those who want to participate.”

Established in 2009, JDAIM is a call to action which encourages communities to foster inclusion, bring awareness, and to champion for the needs, and abilities, of people in the Jewish community with disabilities. Observed in February, JDAIM stands as an affirmation that inclusion and belonging are essential to well-being and quality of life of people with disabilities not just in one month, but all months.

The Changing Landscape: Work & Inclusivity for Persons with Disabilities

Panelists

  • Susan Schonfeld, Executive Director of Community Integrated Services (CIS)
  • Julia Barol, President of the Pennsylvania Chapter of Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE)
  • Suzanne Erb, Disability Navigator at the JEVS Human Services operated Suburban Station CareerLink and self-advocate
  • Luke Tomczuk, Travel Trainer at Community Integrated Services (CIS) and Community Outreach Specialist at Temple University
  • Rob Opp, Sourcer for TD Bank; Veteran and Individuals with Diverse Abilities (IwDA) communities

Moderated by Julia Blackwell, Executive Director of JEVS hireAbility, a program of JEVS Human Services, the panel explored how the pandemic impacted employment for people with disabilities and what new opportunities have emerged for those seeking employment. The audience heard from employers, advocates, service providers and clients with first-hand experience navigating the labor market during COVID.

How does the Americans with Disabilities Act cover job seekers?

Julia Barol: The ADA covers job seekers by protecting job seekers from discrimination in the hiring process. It also requires reasonable accommodations to application materials and other hiring processes (such as access to testing materials).

What does it take to create a disability inclusive culture?

Rob Opp: It takes complete buy-in from the top down. A commitment from executives to support efforts that may take their employees away from their primary responsibilities. The willingness to understand leadership may not know best practices for creating a disability inclusive culture, and seeking outside counsel for guidance. Creating an ERG where internal supporters can connect to discuss the best ways of creating a disability inclusive culture helps build that culture from within.

Luke Tomzcuk: Greater acceptance, especially from individuals who have not been exposed to autism before, takes time. Trainings led by an IDD individual would be a great first step. It takes commitment from everyone involved.

Suzanne Erb: I would like to add that making sure that all of the material is accessible, for example, including web pages, forms, even things like health check forms as a result of Covid. There are many businesses whose website customer-facing pages are accessible, but the actual pages that are accessed by employees are not necessarily accessible. There is an assumption that employees would not need the same level of accessibility as customers.

Julia Barol: Great question! and one that is especially relevant now with focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion in organizations. Or as I like to say, equity first. This would be at the base of creating a disability inclusive culture – acknowledging that your organization is actively looking to include marginalized individuals with in the organization as a first step. Inviting those with disabilities to be a part of the conversation and listening to what they have to say.

How has working from home/hybrid schedules changed employment for people with disabilities?

Susan Schonfeld: We have not had many people who have requested to work remotely – some, but not the majority.  But, it is certainly a possibility if desired.  The pandemic has definitely has made this an acceptable option for people in general and for some people who we serve particularly someone with more medical/self care needs or someone who is reticent due to the virus etc. who may want this option.

Suzanne Erb: There can be times it can put you on an even playing field. And sometimes, people might not know that you have a disability because there may be instances where you don’t need to disclose it, which sometimes is kinda cool. At the same time, there are instances where you might want to be in an environment with your colleagues, like at an agency like PA CareerLink®. At the same time, there are advantages to working from home, as long as the materials your are using are accessible.

Julia Barol: Working from home/hybrid schedules has allowed people to have the flexibility to work in comfortable environs, it has allowed for more flexibility with personal care routines and given people more options for employment success.

Luke Tomzcuk: It has made life easier for individuals who enjoy having more flexibility with their work settings. Sensory issues with working in an office (lots of talking/conversation, large meetings) taken away. Benefits and consequences depend on the individual.

What are some effective ways to present disability issues to employers regarding disclosure and accommodations?

Julia Barol: In the application process, if you need an accommodation, you need to ask right away. If you need support from outside of the hiring process, don’t hesitate to ask a friend or a job coach, or health care professional to help you in that process. The employer will most likely want to know what accommodations you will need and how it will help you to participate more fully in the application process and be able to compete for a job you are qualified for. It is important to note that the employer cannot ask you specific questions during the interview process related directly to your disability, but they can ask what type of accommodations you would need to better participate in the process.

Suzanne Erb: First, depending on what the job is, is going to determine how you go about addressing the topic of disclosure. In terms of accommodations, depending on the particular job you’re applying for, or involved with, you are likely to know what you will need to do the job. I would say though, that it is important for the person with a disability to ask a lot of questions. When you disclose a disability is important too – I read a book a long time ago that was written by a HR person who also happened to be blind, who recommended that when you get invited for a interview, after you have the date pinned down and before you hang up the phone, then you might want to say something like I’ve got the hottest wheelchair in the East, or You’ll know that its me because I’ve got the cutest assistance animal in the world.

How can businesses be more welcoming to employees with disabilities?

Luke Tomzcuk: By learning more information, having trainings for employees, being engaged in the trainings, and having an open mind when an IDD individual joins a team.

Suzanne Erb: I would like to add, everybody brings themselves to the office, or the workplace no matter where it is, you bring your whole self. Everybody has different ways of going about doing things in the office setting, so a lot of times people who don’t have disabilities, have different ways of doing things. I think being accepting about how people do his or his tasks. It’s not just the materials that need to be accessible, but the environment – for example, copiers and printers. Making these more accessible for people with disabilities can actually help everyone in the long run.

What are some benefits you’ve seen at your company as a result of your inclusive hiring efforts?

Rob Opp: The inclusive hiring efforts have been applauded throughout TD Bank, which itself has increased morale. And by having a committed advocate (which is me) within TD, our employees see the commitment their company is making to increase inclusive hiring efforts. This also gives TD colleagues a person to share ideas with, make an introduction to external organizations, or just help in a job search.

Luke Tomzcuk: CIS: serving participants has allowed us to bring participants on board with the team internally. Reaching out to individuals and serving them says a great deal about the organization. How they serve individuals is validated through this aspect.

What are the opportunities ahead for job seekers with a disability?

Susan Schonfeld: Many new opportunities – including different, nontraditional industries, increased wages and hours for people.  Increased use of technology all around. I think the moment is now to ride the wave of opportunities that are available for people – the labor market is wide open – creating increased opportunities for anyone pretty much in any industry right now.

In closing, Blackwell had this to say, “We are grateful for the opportunity to have a platform to discuss these important issues, ensuring the economic recovery is equitable and people with disabilities voices are at the focus is essential to our goal.”

JEVS Employment for People with Disabilities

At work, it’s what people can do that defines them. JEVS offers a number of specialized skill and job search programs for people with disabilities who want to work.

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JEVS hireAbility offers empowering, customized employment programs to assist individuals living with a disability or chronic disease by preparing them for competitive employment and community integration. […]
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