Fort McCoy News November 14, 2014

Disability Employment Awareness Month observed

STORY & PHOTO BY GENEVE N. MANKEL
Public Affairs Staff

Creating opportunities for people with disabilities was the shared goal of the guest speakers at Fort McCoy's National Disability Employment Awareness Month observance.

Photo for disability article
Kristine Tock of Riverfront Inc. and Ryan Tichenor of Handishop Industries
present information to a Fort McCoy audience about empowering persons
with disabilities through employment. The presentation was held in
observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Ryan Tichenor of Handishop Industries and Kristine Tock of Riverfront Inc., said although they are competitors in the same industry, they work for the same mission.

During the presentation they focused on the observance theme of "Expect. Employ. Empower."

Expect

Tichenor said when talking to people with disabilities, it's important for employers to know they don't have to use an "altruistic vocabulary."

"Don't feel you have to use the exact slogan or the exact buzz word of the day," Tichenor said. "It's OK to build the relationship as you would with any other employee."

One of the biggest fears employers have is offending someone, Tock said. If an employer has a question, most people with disabilities are fine answering them. She also advises the people she works with to talk about their disability with other people to get them to feel comfortable.

Tichenor and Tock said employers should not worry too much about being politically correct. There are words to avoid, but as long as you're not being malicious, it's probably going to be acceptable.

Tichenor also emphasized employees with a disability still should be held to the same work standards as other employees. Employers shouldn't feel they need to focus on the disability, and not the employee's work.

Employers must communicate their expectations and hold their employees with disabilities accountable, just as they would with any other employee, he said.

Tock also said she doesn't expect employers to hire anyone not qualified for the position.

Employ

Accommodations might have to be made when employing a person with a disability, but there are also incentives for businesses.
Tock described several incentives available to employers.

She said Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development Vocational Rehabilitation Division can help businesses find a vendor, such as Riverfront and Handishop that will work to recruit and hire pre-screened, qualified individuals. The business will not incur the costs associated with finding an employee.

Employers also may qualify to have the employee's wages paid for several weeks and have a job coach provided to offset training costs. Some organizations provide interns to businesses and will pay their wages throughout the internship period.

"The programs aren't advertised, but they're out there," Tock said.

Tichenor said the word "accommodations" sometimes scares employers off because they think it will be expensive and disrupt work-flow.

Accommodations might not be as expensive as an employer might think, Tock said. "Sometimes an accommodation might be as simple as laminating a list."

Tock said accommodations also might benefit other employees. In one instance, an accommodation included adding a counting button to a workspace. Soon after, the button was added to all the workspaces to improve productivity.

Empower

Tichenor said, "When looking at someone with a disability, take what is considered a weakness, and look at it in a positive way." This helps to empower individuals.

Tock shared a story of a person she worked with who really wanted to work at Walmart. After failing his initial interview, he tried again and was hired.

He was empowered because he got his dream job. His employer benefitted as well because the employee has never missed a day of work and loves his job.

Tichenor said many studies show gainfully employed people live longer and are less likely to engage in criminal activity.
If systems are in place that open up employment opportunities for people with disabilities, it will benefit society as a whole, Tichenor said.

For more information about observances in the Fort McCoy community, call the Equal Opportunity Adviser at 608-388-3246.