What is the Employer Outreach Initiative? And Who Needs It?

By Janet Shouse

Last week I shared some concerns that employers sometimes voice when discussions about hiring people with disabilities occur. I also shared some facts and figures that demonstrate those concerns often don’t reflect reality.

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Lynnette Henderson at EOI Presentation

For many, though not all, of us, we fear the unfamiliar, and if you’ve never interacted or worked with a person with a disability, that’s unfamiliar territory. As I mentioned previously, many initiatives to hire people with disabilities have been started by parents or siblings of those with disabilities, because we have a lifetime of experience of knowing what people with disabilities can do, what strengths and talents they possess and that many of them long to be part of the working world. (And we know some of them want to make money!)

So how do we make hiring and working with people with disabilities more familiar? Those of us who have friends and loved ones with disabilities can help build connections with shops and restaurants and other businesses in our communities. If your friend or your son or daughter routinely visits a business, you might ask if you could introduce him or her to the manager. If there are people in your faith community or a social club who are in positions to hire, you might look for connections there.

   About the Author

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Janet Shouse is a parent of a young adult with autism, and she is passionate about inclusion, employment of people with disabilities, medical issues related to developmental disabilities, supports and services, public policy, legislative initiatives, advocacy, and the intersection of faith and disability. She wears many hats at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, including one as a disability employment specialist for TennesseeWorks.

Our hope is that this weekly blog will offer information you want to know, so if you have a question you want answered about employment for people with disabilities or other mysteries of the world of work, please email me at janet.shouse@vumc.org.

One relatively easy way to help familiarize people in the business community with people with disabilities and the value they can bring to the bottom line is the TennesseeWorks Employer Outreach Initiative. Several members of our TennesseeWorks Partnership are trained to give this presentation, which can run as short as 30 minutes or up to an hour. The presentation offers the data to demonstrate what businesses around the country have learned from their efforts to hire people disabilities. It works!

The presentation also includes some testimonials from employers, so attendees can hear first-hand the benefits hiring people with disabilities.

So who needs the Employer Outreach Initiative? Any city or community where people with disabilities want to work and yet are unemployed or under-employed.

Who is the target audience? Groups that have business leaders, employers, hiring managers or human resources folks are great. Groups such as chambers of commerce, Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, or Lions Clubs are some examples. Although we haven’t presented the Employer Outreach Initiative to faith communities that I’m aware of, we would gladly do so.

Ryan Egly, the project manager at the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce, wrote to one of our presenters after the Employer Outreach presentation:

“Thank you for your presentation today! I am excited to take the next steps in linking all of our partners with employers for the advancement of employment opportunities among persons with disabilities. We are in the process of scheduling various Industry Roundtables throughout the year and will be in contact to coordinate a date for you to lead the discussion. … I am looking forward to working with you.”

If you would like to bring the TennesseeWorks Employer Outreach Initiative to your city or county or congregation, we have a team that would be happy to share what we call our “Business Case” to local gatherings of business leaders and employers. If interested in scheduling a presentation, please email me at janet.shouse@vumc.org or my colleague Lynnette Henderson at Lynnette.henderson@vanderbilt.edu.

In addition to the Employer Outreach Initiative, TennesseeWorks is also hosting its fourth Think Employment Summit, which is scheduled for Sept. 15 at the CoolSprings Embassy Suites, and registration will open soon for that. This employment-focused conference includes programming for students, self-advocates, educators, service providers, policy makers, family members, and professionals. This would be a great opportunity for business owners and employers to learn more about hiring and working with people with disabilities. For additional information about the Summit, contact my colleague Kelly Wendel at kelly.wendel@vanderbilt.edu.

Finally, if any employers would like to join the TennesseeWorks Partnership, which includes more than 45 state departments, agencies, non-profit organizations, service providers, educators, advocates and families, we would be happy to have them join. The TennesseeWorks Partnership has quarterly meetings that examine ways to improve employment opportunities in Tennessee for people with disabilities. We would be delighted to have more employers involved! If interested, email me at janet.shouse@vumc.org.

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