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How Universal Design Helps Everyone Use Their Talents
Kathy West-Evans, MPA, CRC
Director of Business Relations, National Employment Team (NET)
As we highlight the diversity of the world around us, it is clear that talent comes in all packages, including in individuals with disabilities. Knowing that disability can occur at any time in life and during the employment life cycle, we must focus on developing the talent of all individuals and design strategies that keep people productive.
Our team has engaged in a dual customer approach. As we support people with disabilities, it is key to support the development of their career goals, skills, and abilities. For young people, this means increasing access to education, training, and opportunities as they explore career options. For individuals who acquire a disability later in life, this means considering how we accommodate them and keep them on their career path.
For business customers, we apply this strategy upfront as part of an overall approach to universal design, and the development of a diversity and inclusion focus that includes disability.
Whether we are planning around employees, customers, or both, people with disabilities represent 1 in 5 people in the United States. Disability impacts every family and business across the country.
To keep our workforce and community productive and engaged, universal design is a key element. Even if you don’t currently have a disability, chances are you will at some point in your life due to accident, injury, illness, or other factors.
The concept of universal design in our communities and workplaces ensures we can all access life and continue to be independent, productive, contributing members of our community. It is not a “we/they” situation — this is about all of us.
Kathy West-Evans, MPA, CRC, Director of Business Relations, National Employment Team (NET),
August 20, 2020
If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together*.
Celebrating National Apprenticeship Week with cancer survivor Matt Campbell. ComSoncis and the National Employment Team
Webinar Series: Career Tech Education for Students with Disabilities. Career and Technical Education (CTE) is a viable option to prepare high school students with disabilities for the future. Changes in the Carl Perkins Act brings a stronger focus on he needs of students with disabilities. This five-part webinar series examines programs, practices and partnerships among CTE and special education practitioners.
Resources from the NCRTM on Apprenticeships. This updated list of resources in the NCRTM includes an Apprenticeship Implementation Guide and Paid Work Experience Implementation Guide from the Jobs Driven Technical Assistance Center (JD-VRTAC) and more links and resources from the Department of Labor and Workforce GPS.
New from NCRTM. Don’t forget to check out our October newsletter with video success stories in VR and a feature on the VR Workforce Studio to celebrate National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month.
The VR Workforce Studio Podcast is owned and operated by the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation. WWRCF publishes and distributes the VR Workforce Studio and manages all sponsor arrangements. Audio Content for the podcast is provided to the WWRCF by the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services in exchange for promotional considerations.
*Show title reference also recognized as an African proverb and used as a theme at the recent Net Summit
TO LISTEN OR READ THE TRANSCRIPT OF THE PODCAST PLEASE CLICK HERE
Disability:IN 22nd Conference 2019 Chicago, IL
With 2000 attendees taking part in the Disability:IN on July 15 - 18, 2019 for the 22nd Annual Conference & Expo, the National Employment Team was excited to set up a booth to showcase Vocational Rehabilitation and share information from a few of our NET partners and representatives.
This year's conference and expo was titled "IN For INclusion". The focus, which aligns greatly with the VR-NET partnership was all about sharing and developing proven strategies for including people with disabilities in the workplace, supply chain and marketplace.
Kathy West-Evans shared some highlights of the event with the photos below. We would like to thank our friends at DisabilityIN for recognizing the impact that Vocational Rehabilitation and Business to Business partnerships provided by conduits like the National Employment Team in centering our focus of inclusion of individuals that have an extroidinary amount of talent and diversity to offer!
New York Employment Summit: AFB at Google NYC
New York Employment Summit: AFB at Google NYC –Thank you to our partners at AFB for inviting VR and the CSAVR-NET to participate in their first Employment Summit held at the Google office in New York City. Kirk Adams, CEO and President as well as George Abbott, Chief Knowledge Advancement Officer organized and introduced the Summit. Brian Daniels (Director, New York State Commission for the Blind) was joined by Peter Herrig (NET POC) and several other NY-SCB staff at the Summit. Brian provided opening remarks while Peter and other VR staff presented on the role and resources that VR provides. Several business partners were represented and presented, including Bank of America, PNC, Walmart, Amazon and Sony as well as other companies. The businesses focused on the future of inclusion and diversity in the workplace, including disability as well as universal design and the impact of assistive technology. There were also employees with disabilities represented, including those who are blind or have a vision loss, talking about their experiences and building an inclusion culture within a company. Kathy was joined by Leslie Wilson from Disability:IN to discuss the changing role of VR, the NET and community partners in a dual customer environment serving both individuals and business. AFB will be hosting a number of these Summits and will be working with Kathy to include VR teams and business at the local level.
8th Annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day
hank you to our partners at Disability:IN and Accenture for inviting the CSAVR-NET to participate in a celebration of the 8th Annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day in the Russell Senate Building, Kennedy Caucus room on May 16th. Jill Houghton, President and CEO of Disability:IN provided opening remarks including the focus on disability as being “a mismatch between the individual and the environment.” Chad Jerdee, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer, Accenture moderated a panel discussion titled “The Accessibility Advantage.” Members on the panel included representatives from Facebook, Walmart, Verizon Media and CSD. The Verizon representative referenced the preamble to the Rehabilitation Act and talked about disability as being part of the normal human experience.
(Pictured from left to right: 1) Congressman Langevin RI in House, co-chair disability caucus and cyber security committee. 20% of pwd participating in the workforce, competitive integrated employment ---Transition to Independence Act. 2) Senator Tammy Duckworth - IL. Iraqi Veteran, Purple Heart recipient, speaking on the panel at the Russel Senate Building 3) Kathy West-Evans and Suzy Rosen Singleton the Chief of the Disability Rights Office at the Federal Communication Commission, smiling for the camera in the Kennedy Caucus Room following the conference.
Diversity Dialogue with Kathy West-Evans, Director of Business Relations for CSAVR
By Jennifer London October 30, 2018 - Originally Posted to DiversityBestPractices.com
Kathy West-Evans is the Director of Business Relations for CSAVR (Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation). CSAVR is the membership organization of Directors from the VR agencies in every state, the territories and D.C., serving over one million individuals with disabilities. She leads the National Employment Team (NET) of 80 VR Business Consultants. The NET helps businesses meet their employment needs through the talent pool and services of VR at the national, state and local level. The information shared by business customers is also used to help individual customers with disabilities develop a career plan that is in line with their interests, skills, talents and the labor market.
We had a chance to speak with Kathy about the work of the CSAVR, an organization that has flown under the radar of many companies, to make sure our readers are aware of the plethora of resources and services it provides to both individuals with disabilities and to the organizations who want to recruit and retain them.
DBP: What is the main objective for the work of the CSAVR?
Kathy West-Evans: The main target of the program is to support people with disabilities as they develop careers and move into competitive and integrated employment; helping individuals build a career, stay in a career and grow in their career. We do this by using what we refer to as a dual customer strategy.
Our first customers are individuals with disabilities. We work with people starting as early as high school and anyone who acquires a disability during the employment lifecycle. We have a focus on transitioning youth but there are also needs with the aging workforce, and people who are focused working after they acquire a disability, no matter when it happens. That includes our nation’s Veterans.
The other customer is the businesses and organizations looking to recruit, hire and retain talent, including people with disabilities. In order to best serve our business customers, we sat down with them to understand what they need from us to prepare individuals for a career, build a talent pipeline and how we can support the organization to ensure they are both successful at hiring as well as keeping the talent in the workplace. From those conversations, we knew we had to have a more streamlined organizational structure to include both a national infrastructure but, more importantly, local supports throughout the footprint of our business customers. In essence, build a team around the business using a coordinated approach driven by the needs of the customer.
DBP: What are some of the services CSAVR provides to organizations as it relates to their approach to recruiting and retaining individuals with disabilities?
K W-E: Our team works to meet a company where they are so we have multiple entry points depending on where the need is and where the business wants and is prepared to start.
We help to build a pipeline of talent. We can leverage state and federal resources to invest in training programs to prepare people for the workplace, but we want to make sure they are aligned with the needs of business. Some of our business partners have internship programs or apprenticeship programs, we have also worked with companies to develop business-based training programs.
We also offer staff training on disability awareness, employment laws and how to build a strategy to make it work for their organization
The VR-NET provides consultation and technical services as well. We have assistive technology experts on our team who can work with organizations on accessibility of their technology platforms like their website or computer systems. In addition to providing direct support to organizations based on their individual needs, we recently created the Talent Acquisition Portal (TAP) a way of answering the needs of both our individual and business customers. TAP is an online talent exchange platform.
We partnered with a disability-owned business, disABLEDpersons, to create the platform so that it is accessible to a wide range of people and that is more interactive than your run-of-the-mill job board. Candidates can post their resume on the platform and companies can post job openings. It is a platform that offers the opportunity for candidates and employers to interact. We currently have 20,000 candidates on TAP and over 90 companies using TAP.
DBP: What are you seeing as the next phase of workplace inclusion for people with disabilities?
K W-E: Generally speaking, we are seeing more of a focus on developing the culture of the company as opposed to just recruiting efforts. Many organizations have internal employee resource groups focused on people with disabilities and are leveraging the people inside the organization to provide education and to increase the comfort level for colleagues around issues facing people with disabilities in the workplace.
This type of work is important. It is one thing for us to go in and provide a training, but the companies that have employee resource groups are creating the on-going internal resources needed to sustain the work. We are available for technical assistance, when needed.
Business is also more focused on retaining talent. Disability can occur at any time during the employment life-cycle. We are being contacted more often to support business in keeping their valued talent working. It just makes sense to keep people working rather than having an individual seek help after losing a job. It’s a win-win.
DBP: What are some examples of innovative approaches that organizations are employing to recruit and retain people with disabilities?
Hyatt Hotels faced a shortage in the culinary arts area of their organization. They created a training program that takes place on-site using the curriculum of the business but developed in partnership with a community partner, Hands on Education. What’s great about the program is that you are not required to go to culinary arts school to participate, just the motivation and the core work habits to work in this industry. Individuals in the program train at the Hyatt where they have access to a range of work experiences from This provides an alternative path to access the industry and it is a great way to train candidates and develop a talent pipeline to meet the needs of Hyatt. The VR-NET has supported the use of this model across multiple states from Florida and the mid-Atlantic area to Texas, Colorado, California, Washington and states in-between Well over 1,000 people have been trained through the private-public partnership.
Microsoft revamped their interview process to make it more accessible to individuals on the autism spectrum. These individuals often have the skills needed to do the job, but don’t always interview well in traditional interview setting. In order to have more success in hiring individuals on the spectrum, they have been using a one-week working interview. Through Microsoft’s partnership with a community partner, PROVAIL and CSAVR, they are provided with a coach/mentor for the whole week. Microsoft has hired over 65 individuals in engineering roles and other positions as well as hiring interns. They have access to a highly skilled talent pool because they removed that barrier that the traditional interview process created.
We have also worked with CVS Health to understand what it looks like on the retail side and on the distribution side, so that we knew how to get individuals ready for those types of careers. In addition, we worked with them to make sure their hiring program and training programs were accessible to all individuals. In partnership with CVS, we now have a pharmacy tech training program and eight training centers around the country as well as other markets. CVS has hired 500 VR candidates in the last two years.
The last example, is a convenience store/gas station company, KwikTrip. KwikTrip was looking at building out a new position within the organization to increase customer service. They already had cashiers and retail employees that handle customer service but they needed a staff person for stocking and cleaning so that the other employees could focus on customer service and not be pulled away to restock an item. So, they developed the role of Retail Helper in their 600+ stores in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. They worked with VR to develop how the role would work and VR prescreened the candidates, provided a job coach and any other support the individuals would need to succeed. KwikTrip has since hired over 300 people through the partnership with VR..
This partnership with Kwik Trip has led to an increase in business and the people they hired have better retention rates than other employees. People are choosing to shop there because of the company’s commitment to hiring people with disabilities.
DBP: What are the opportunities that remain for CSAVR and the work you do to support individuals with disabilities and the organizations looking to hire them?
K W-E: Many organizations are still afraid to ask how to do this work. How do you outreach to a population if you don’t know how? So there is still work to be done on raising awareness around the services and programs that are available to organizations in this space.
Another focus for us is, as people are acquiring disabilities, is how do you keep them working? Many people who acquire disabilities after they are already in the workforce are not aware of the services that are available to them. We are working with companies to connect people who need support because business wants to keep these talented individuals. We want to provide support to our business partners and these employees so that they can adjust to a disability and potentially a different way of doing things, not just personally but in the workplace as well.
DBP: What are you excited about? What keeps you optimistic about the future of workplace inclusion for people with disabilities?
K W-E: The VR-NET has access to a lot of skilled, diverse talent, so it is exciting when companies step out and take a lead role with other companies to leverage this amazing talent pool.
It is also great to work with schools and parents to help them look past a medical label and see the skillsets their students and children have to offer a workplace.
This is my 40th year in this profession and I am still excited about it every day. I see the positive impact we can make on people and their families. Despite what individuals are told they “can’t do” they are working, independent and contributing to their community in meaningful ways. It is exactly what anyone of us would want, if/when we acquire a disability.
On July 17th, Hands on Education celebrated their 20th Anniversary by inviting 300 of partners, sponsors, and graduates to The Hyatt Regency Orlando - which happens to be the second largest Hyatt in the world.
In attendance were The Honorable Janet LaBreck (former RSA Commissioner and Presidential Appointee), Tyronne Stoudemire (Hyatt Global VP of Diversity and Inclusion), Nikki Massey (Hyatt VP of Human Resources - Americas), Kathy West-Evans (National Business Relations Director for CSAVR), Allison Flanagan (FL State DVR Director), John Evans (former WA State VR Business Relations Mgr), and Robert Doyle (FL State DBS Director). Also in attendance were partners from Hyatt Hotels all over Florida and as far as Dallas and Denver.
The real most distinguished attendees of the event were the graduates of the Hands on Education program. Some of them helped serve the evening's well received dinner, and many of them were recognized for their long-term employment spanning over the past 20 years. The National Employment Team would like to extend our congratulations to the program graduates and all of our partners who were involved in making the event a success and an honor to attend!
Below are several great photos captured by Kathy West-Evans that we hope you enjoy!