New Training Can Boost Employers’ Skills, Confidence in Hiring People with Disabilities

/ December 21, 2021

By Mandy Board

Now Hiring!

It seems like those signs are everywhere these days.  Are you a business owner struggling to find good candidates?  Have you ever considered hiring an individual with a disability but don’t know where to start?  The Tennessee Department of Human Services’ Vocational Rehabilitation program has resources that can help.

I’m excited to share a new training resource available to Tennessee businesses called Windmills.   Windmills is a live 12-module training for employers to help them better understand how to work with people with disabilities.

What makes Windmills so special?  Unlike most training that focuses on building skills to specific business operations or job skills, Windmills focuses on what happens after a person with a disability gets hired.  It helps prepare for and answer questions like — What is the work culture like?  How do managers relate to their new employee who has a disability? How do co-workers interact with a co-worker with a disability?  What if accommodations are needed?  Windmills goes through multiple exercises with employers and can be used to train managers, executives, and employees how to be more welcoming to co-workers with disabilities by breaking through the fears of saying or doing the wrong thing.

The name Windmills comes from symbolism in the novel “Don Quixote.” In this classic, an aging knight believes he is fighting giants, but he’s really battling windmills. The training tackles the “giants” of myths, biases, fear and stereotypes.

Windmills is designed to help people understand themselves and help them adjust the preconceived notions they have about people with disabilities.  To get comfortable, you often have to get uncomfortable first.

For example, in one exercise, Windmills asks training participants to consider seven different job candidates with different disabilities like cerebral palsy, blindness, dyslexia, paraplegia, bipolar disorder, and others.  Then it asks the training participants to match the job candidates with disabilities to one of eight different jobs such as receptionist, server, cable installer, teacher, mechanic, etc. and to give the reason for each match.  Training participants are also asked to pick the job candidate least likely to be able to do each job and list the reasons why.  Next, the certified Windmills trainer leads the training participants in a discussion about each of their selections and the reasons for their selections.  After the discussion is over, the trainer asks if anyone felt uncomfortable doing this exercise and their reasons.  As you might expect, participants often say that they were uncomfortable.  They quickly realize that they didn’t have enough information to make a hiring decision.  The trainer then gives more information about each job candidate and with this information the training participants see that they jumped to conclusions.  With the additional information, they would have picked differently.  The exercise helps them become aware of their own biases and see how more people could match with more positions than they initially thought.  While uncomfortable, this exercise helps employers realize the importance of focusing on the person’s abilities, not their own misconceptions.

Windmills helps employers become more self-aware of their attitudes and beliefs about disabilities.  It increases disability awareness, inclusion, and sensitivity in the workplace.  It gives practical applications for working with people with disabilities on the job and provides information on developing accommodations for people by talking to the individual about what they need instead of making assumptions about the person needs.

Windmills lessens the fear and discomfort of the unknown.

Are you interested in unlocking the potential that people with disabilities can bring to your workforce?  If so, the Department of Human Services, Vocational Rehabilitation program is ready to help.  Our certified trainers are eager to deliver Windmills trainings to employers across the state at no charge. If you are in West Tennessee and interested in Windmills, you can reach out to me via my email,  You can also contact our statewide director of Business Services for Vocational Rehabilitation, Ryan Jolley. He can be reached at

Editor’s update: The Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities is now working with Vocational Rehabilitation to offer this training to employers as well, and the contact information to connect with DIDD is .)


I want to thank Mandy for writing about this training program, which I think is very much needed in our state. I also want to thank Mandy Johnson, assistant commissioner for the Division of Rehabilitation Services, and Ryan Jolley, director of Business Services for Vocational Rehabilitation, for their efforts to bring the Windmills training to our state. I believe we have employers and businesses that want to hire people with disabilities, but they have concerns–about risks, the costs of accommodations, saying or doing the wrong thing—that this training will help alleviate. Over the course of the past seven years, I have heard over and over, “I wish we had someone or some group to train employers about the value of hiring people with disabilities,” and for years, everyone thought this was a great idea, but no group seemed to have the funding and the staff to do this. Now we do—and it’s free. I hope you, as readers, will share this information with businesses and employers—it’s good for their bottom line and good for all Tennesseans. Thanks! And if you have questions or concerns, you can email me at

Mandy Board is the West Tennessee area manager of Business Services for the Division of Rehabilitation Services. In that role, Mandy provides leadership and oversight for Business Services across 21 counties in West Tennessee. She started working for the Tennessee Department of Human Services as a Pre-Employment Transition Services specialist in April 2019. She has a Bachelor of General Studies degree from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), and she is certified in non-profit management and as an employment training specialist. She has more than 10 years of experience working with Vocational Rehabilitation programs. Prior to joining DHS, Mandy worked for Goodwill Industries of Mid-Michigan as a workforce development manager.

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