If there’s one thing to know about disability expert, Sheridan Walker, it’s how genuinely passionate she is about helping employers better understand and connect with individuals with disabilities. She’s a force to be reckoned with in the space and makes the topics of disability etiquette and education far less intimidating. With National Disability Employment Awareness Month just around the corner, she was a natural fit to host our first live, instructor-led course within DE Academy, the Disability Awareness Mastery Course, which kicks off on October 1. Take a moment to get to know her and enroll in the course today to begin building a successful, long-term disability hiring program in your organization!
Both the DirectEmployers and Recruit Rooster teams have enjoyed getting to know you over the last few years, but can you tell our Members a little bit about yourself?
Sure! My name is Sheridan Walker, and I have been in the disability space for over 30 years. I am the founder and president of HirePotential, Inc., which is a woman-owned national firm providing employment solutions to government contractors since 1999. HirePotential focuses on providing companies with results on recruiting, hiring, accommodating, compliance, as well as full inclusion and belonging to individuals with disabilities.
On that note, tell us a little more about HirePotential, Inc. and what services you offer.
HirePotential, Inc. is a full-service company that provides solutions to help companies and government contractors succeed in navigating the complexities of disability compliance and inclusion by building a thriving, diverse workplace, marketplace, and workforce. Our services include training, staffing and recruiting, website accessibility and remediation, outsourced accommodations, and consulting.
What influenced your decision to get involved in the disability and inclusion space?
I have always been attracted to and interested in disability. At a young age, my dad had a stroke. I would hear the medical professionals say, “He is a vegetable and will not be able to walk or talk or do anything.” Even as a young child, that comment felt to be an injustice. They had dismissed my dad as a person and a person with abilities. I saw things very differently. My father was able to walk again and continued to teach me lessons, although he was non-verbal. One experience I will share, is one day, my dad made a gesture to come for a walk with him. My dad walked with a cane, he was very slow, but he could walk. I did not know where we were going, but I enjoyed the warm summer day walking with him. We walked a few blocks, which took over two hours. He was hot, breathing heavy, and sweating profusely. Watching his determination and perseverance to get to where we were going was amazing to me. I asked myself, “What was all this effort for anyway?” We finally arrived at a corner five-and-dime store just for him to buy me a 10-cent plastic doll. That doll meant so much to me because of the effort and love he showed me that day. What I ultimately learned from my dad was NEVER to underestimate a person’s will, ability, and determination.
In 1997, I was hired at an IT staffing firm to recruit and hire talent with disabilities. In my first year, we hired 186 people with disabilities, drove $7M in revenue and a $250,000 in tax credit with only 23 of the 50 offices participating. With this model and success came the start of HirePotential, Inc. Need I say more on the value of talent with disabilities?
What an awesome story, Sheridan! There’s no doubt you have a heart for the disability and inclusion space. What do you find is the biggest challenge for employers in becoming a fully inclusive workplace?
The biggest challenge is fear and attitudinal barriers. The history of the media and our beginning knowledge of disability are words like charity, unable, enabling. It is unconscious bias. There needs to be more and continually mandated education for everyone in a company, as well as resources, and accountability in achieving the recruitment, hiring, and retention of talent with disabilities.
So many challenges to overcome in order to make a difference! What do you hope to see happen in the disability and inclusion space in the coming years?
I hope that we see more companies realizing the talent and value of individuals with disabilities. I would like to see more mandated training for not just recruiters, but managers, support staff, and C level. It becomes ingrained in the culture of the organization, not just a compliance “check the box” issue. I have companies ask me, what is the business case for recruiting, hiring, accommodating, etc. when it comes to people with disabilities? However, I never hear them ask what the business case for recruiting, hiring, other diverse populations is. My point? Disability is diversity.
What is your best advice for employers looking to get started on the process of inclusion?
I will put it into steps:
- First things first, you need C-Level support and a budget.
- Next, find champions in the organization and hire a partner/consultant to get the right foundation from which to work. Know your processes and procedures for accommodations. Have a centralized budget. Get proactive instead of reactive. Have alternative formats of your recruiting materials, get your website assessed on accessibility, at least your career pages meaning, and the flow from your home page to submitting a resume page.
- Set goals and objectives of what you want to achieve in the next five years and have accountability to get it done.
- Next, training, training, training–and be consistent. Not just one annual event, but a series of events on disability inclusion and belonging.
- Finally, implement. Find partners to help you find qualified talent, engage or start an Employee Resource Group, be assertive, and apply strong efforts in getting to know this talented workforce.
You recently signed on to do a live disability and inclusion Mastery Course for DE Academy. What can attendees expect to take away from this course?
The Disability Awareness Mastery Course was developed for a wide variety of audiences, including those who may be new to the disability space, may not feel they have enough knowledge, be new to compliance, or just want to learn more. It will provide a general overview of disability, and learners will walk away with basic knowledge and understanding of disability as it relates to compliance, awareness, interviewing and positioning. It will also include the most common assistive technology, managing, marketing, resources, and of course, the business case!
That sounds great. We’re so excited to offer this course to our Members! Aside from that, what’s next – is there anything exciting happening for you and in the coming months?
We are developing a package to assist companies with focused reviews which will include a website accessibility assessment, training, and more. We are also providing training such as “How to Survive a Disability Focused Audit.” We are also currently developing eLearning training on the expanded WCAG 2.1 web accessibility guidelines.
As you may know, October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and we will be doing several events during the month!
Okay, let’s end on a fun note. Tell us an interesting fact about yourself!
I still play competitive volleyball. In 2016, I represented the USA in the Global Senior Olympics in Brazil and won the Silver Medal at the age of, well, I’ll let you guess–old!
Wow, what an inspiration! Thanks, Sheridan! Be sure to connect with her in the Partner Marketplace community within DE Connect, and take advantage of the opportunity to enroll in the six-week Disability Awareness Mastery Course to improve your disability recruitment, hiring and retention skills–all from the convenience of our eLearning platform, DE Academy.
Kacie Clark is a Marketing Manager specializing in social media and communications for DirectEmployers Association.