Is Your Business Inclusive of People with Disabilities? Apply for Tennessee Employment First Disability Inclusive Employer Award

/ June 6, 2023

By Tanika Arms

Disability inclusion at work is about more than hiring people with disabilities.  An inclusive workplace values all employees for their strengths. It offers employees with disabilities —visible or invisible — an equal opportunity to succeed, learn, be compensated fairly, and be promoted.

Tennessee state government realized the need to recognize employers committed to competitive integrated employment and embrace a culture of inclusion for people with disabilities.  The Employment First Task Force, which was created in 2013 to improve the employment landscape for people with disabilities, had as part of its Strategic Plan the idea of a Tennessee Employment First Inclusive Employer Award.

The Tennessee Employment First Inclusive Employer Award, which is launching this year, will be an annual award to recognize and honor those employers and state agencies that go beyond the legal requirements to recruit, hire, advance, and retain people with disabilities in Tennessee.

The aims of this Disability Inclusive Employer Award are twofold.  The first is to let people with disabilities know that a business, or state agency is enthusiastic about hiring people with disabilities.  The second is to highlight to everyone that businesses or state agencies are interested in creating inclusive work environments.

These are employers making outstanding contributions and implementing practices that improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities.  Some practices include efforts to provide workplace accommodations, training for managers, supervisors, or staff to ensure effective working relationships, a commitment to hiring people with disabilities, advancement opportunities within the business, and efforts to promote positive awareness among all employees.

If this sounds like your business, your employer, or a business that you have visited, regardless of how big or small, please have them apply by July 31, 2023, for the first annual Tennessee Employment First Inclusive Employer Award at–first/task-force.html

Why Apply?

When customers, employees, and the community are made aware of a business’s commitment to disability inclusiveness, it can have a significant impact.  It can provide access to an untapped talent pool, boost employee morale, and increase customer loyalty.  In a national survey of consumers several years ago, 92% of consumers felt more favorable toward those businesses that hire individuals with disabilities, and 87% specifically agreed that they would prefer to give their business to companies that hire individuals with disabilities. Lastly, there is no cost to apply.

The goal is for employers and state agencies to be loud and proud about their disability inclusiveness.  Winners will receive recognition that can be displayed in their business or showcased on their website or careers page, highlighting that they are an inclusive employer of people with disabilities. In addition, we hope that the winners and the recognition they receive will encourage other employers and state agencies across Tennessee to make their workplaces more inclusive!

I am thrilled that the state has launched its Tennessee Employment First Inclusive Employer Award for multiple reasons. The first reason is that the Employment First Task Force and the Tennessee Works Partnership had wanted for 10 years to create some kind of honor or recognition for those businesses that were committed to the idea of hiring and advancing people with disabilities in their workplaces. (And the Tennessee state government has chosen to include state agencies and divisions in the awards process, so yay for us!) The second reason I appreciate the creation of this award is I often have individuals with disabilities or their family members writing to me, asking me for suggestions for employers who want to hire people with disabilities. Now I have an easy way to guide them to enthusiastic employers. Lastly, I hope that consumers will look for and patronize those businesses that are inclusive and reward their commitment to competitive integrated employment with our dollars.

My thanks to Tanika for helping create this award and writing to explain and highlight the launch of this recognition program. I hope we have many, many businesses and state agencies working to win the Tennessee Employment First Inclusive Employer Award!

If you have questions, please contact me at Thank you for reading!

Tanika Arms serves as the director of the State as A Model Program for the Department of Human Resources. Within this role, she is leading the program for the state to become a model employer by creating an accessible and inclusive work environment for individuals with disabilities.


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