October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), and while this designation is great for building awareness around disability employment, celebrating its strengths and identifying its struggles, your disability hiring strategy should remain top-of-mind the entire year through. We recently sat down with disability advocate Janet Fiore for a conversation on her organization The Sierra Group, its foundation, and overall role in the disability space, as well as how employers can remove the obstacles to maintain a fully inclusive workforce. Browse the highlights below but be sure to listen to this episode in its entirety for some great, actionable takeaways!

Candee Chambers:

Janet, I’ve been so excited to have you on this podcast because you do things in your training that people don’t do out there in the workplace, as far as certifying recruiters and that sort of thing. So, what would you say that the most prevalent requests are that you receive from employers?

Janet Fiore:

That’s a great question, and I think the number one thing…there’s two responses. “We’re scared to do it until we get some sensitivity and awareness training. We don’t want to offend anyone.” The fear of offending a person by doing or saying the wrong thing or getting it wrong is an underlying issue for most folks that are looking to make an accommodation, and then they also want to be fair. People want to be fair to the worker with a disability and they want to be fair to the whole team, so ultimately, “how do I get started on the right track so I don’t run amuck of the law or under compensate or overreach?”

I really think the number one response is, “How in the world do we get going with this?”

And that’s easy. Once I can help this person past that fear and get them to just be aware, and realize they’re doing the right thing, and the ADA police don’t usually come arrest anyone. There’s an interactive process. You interact and you figure it out and you communicate and talk about it, and then once you’ve identified the work-related impairment–say, maybe the person has arthritis and they can’t use the keyboard, now you know why they’re typing slowly and they can’t lose their job because of production–now we’re dealing with something that’s easy to fix.

Candee Chambers:

So, The Sierra Group Foundation. It’s a nonprofit that you also lead. It runs the region’s largest adult vocational training program in Philadelphia, so could you tell me a little bit about that program?

Janet Fiore:

I’d be happy to. It was probably around the year 2012, that the Liberty Resources Academy that The Sierra Group had consulted on and helped develop, came to us. Liberty Resources is a center for independent living that deals with advocacy issues for individuals with disabilities. We had created a vocational training program for them, and they came to us and said so many changes are going on in employment that you guys in The Sierra Group are staying on top of. Why don’t we reverse the relationship here and instead of paying you to help us run this program, why don’t you buy it back and run it yourself?

They wanted us to do that but they wanted us to do that through our nonprofit foundation, the workplace technology foundation that does business as The Sierra Group Foundation. That meant that we were going to be able to take everything that we had learned in years of helping work site accommodations and dealing with business needs, and individuals with disabilities being accommodated one at a time, that let us kind of go to more of a systemic program where we bring in people with disabilities, remotely or on site, and teach them business skills, as well as any technology skills that they need, adaptive or otherwise.

It’s a project that lights up my heart and makes me feel really good because we’re helping workers, we’re helping people with disabilities become workers who may have thought that their disability was too severe or their education and upbringing had not enabled them to know how to use technology and get ahead.

Candee Chambers:

I mean, I was listening just a few minutes ago when you were talking about The Sierra Group Foundation, we were talking more about the adult vocational training. I understand that you place something like 73 percent of the graduates each year. That’s incredible! How do you do that? With employer partners, or what’s your process like?

Listen to the full podcast to hear how the Sierra Group places individuals with disabilities in organizations like yours resulting in more than 10,000 stories of workplace accommodation–and stay tuned in the coming weeks for a brand new episode of the DE Talk podcast, which will focus on military caregivers and injured servicemembers in celebration of Veterans Day.

Kacie Clark
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