People With Disabilities and Texas Business — A Profitable Partnership
The Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), a state agency known primarily for providing services to people who have disabilities, has expanded its focus to provide services to the state’s business community. As a result of this dual customer approach, people with disabilities, who have a higher unemployment rate than people with no disability,i have more opportunities for employment. At the same time, businesses have access to free services that can help them lower recruiting and training costs, take advantage of tax incentives and benefits, and reduce turnover.
The Dual Customer Approach
DARS vocational rehabilitation (VR) programs in the agency’s Divisions for Rehabilitation Services and Blind Services help people with disabilities prepare for, find, and keep jobs. VR services also are available to experienced employees who become disabled in the course of their employment. In 2010, approximately 1.5 million—1 out of 10—adult Texans had a disability.ii That number can be expected to increase as the state’s population grows and more people choose to work beyond retirement age.
DARS is one of 80 VR programs across the nation that have adopted the dual customer model promoted by the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR) to serve both employers and this growing population. Each VR program has a business consultant, and together these consultants form the National Employment Team (the NET). NET members initiate local and state business relationships, and some of these become national relationships. This larger business network creates the potential for many NET members to benefit from an individual member’s initiative.
“The dual customer approach helps both businesses and DARS consumers—people with disabilities—succeed,” says Jim Hanophy, Austin, DARS assistant commissioner for rehabilitation services and president of CSAVR.
Free Services for Businesses
“Businesses are actively reaching out to DARS for assistance to hire qualified employees with disabilities,” Mr. Hanophy said. “There are a number of reasons for this, including interest in diversity, the economic climate, and a shortage of qualified workers. Some of them have seen the success of other companies that have hired people with disabilities and want to achieve the same success.”
These successful companies include nationally known organizations like Walgreens, Lowe’s, Hyatt, AT&T, Toys “R” Us, Best Buy, Holiday Inn Hotels & Resorts, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, Marriott Hotels, and True Value hardware stores.
“DARS provides pre-screened, qualified applicants, which saves employers time and money in recruitment costs,” Mr. Hanophy said. “After a consumer is placed in a job or training program, DARS continues to support employers and employees. Each business has an account manager who serves as the single, expert point of contact for that business. The account manager coordinates all of the activities with that business.”
Mr. Hanophy added, “It is essential that we learn as much as possible about our business customer before we refer an applicant. We need to understand their productivity requirements, the skills applicants need to have, the work culture, the formal and informal rules in the workplace, and the intangible traits employers want. This knowledge is key to matching applicants with disabilities with a business.”
DARS not only helps businesses find new employees, the agency also provides job retention services for employees who have developed a disability in the course of their employment. “Everyone wins when individuals can continue to contribute their skills in the workplace and retain their independence by remaining employed,” says DARS Assistant Commissioner for Blind Services BarbaraJ. Madrigal. Business partners such the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Ross Dress for Less, Marriott, and Sears have sought assistance from DARS to address their job retention needs.
“Another valuable service to businesses is consultation on assistive technology that helps people with disabilities access computers and other information technologies and be more mobile,” Ms. Madrigal said. “This service helps create employment opportunities for people with disabilities and also helps businesses make their Web sites, hiring practices, and job announcements accessible to people with disabilities. Technology also helps businesses expand their access to customers who have disabilities.”
DARS services to their business customers are free of charge and also include: guidance on worksite accommodations required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, diversity training for current employees, and information on tax incentives or tax credits that may be available to businesses that employ people with disabilities.
Although employers may have interest and enthusiasm, they often are not sure how to go about recruiting or supporting candidates with disabilities. That is where DARS steps in to learn about business needs. In many cases their initial need might be for disability awareness training. That interaction often opens the door for consultation or technical assistance on a reasonable accommodation and eventually leads to hiring.
The hiring process can be facilitated by an innovation that DARS calls “embedded training.” Like reporters embedded with combat troops, DARS consumers/trainees are in the middle of the action at the work site. Each training program’s length and content are customized to fit the employer’s needs. The training is a strategic partnership that includes DARS, a local community rehabilitation program, and the employer, and it has been shown to be an effective use of funding and manpower.
Embedded training was developed with Walgreens distribution centers in Waxahachie and Houston, where consumers receive a 9-week training program or take part in a 100-hour program that includes skills training and physical conditioning. The training has become a hub model, where one training location feeds graduates to other stores.
DARS also developed an embedded training program for Lowe’s. Ten more embedded training sites were added using funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and more sites have been added since.
Large retailers are not the only beneficiaries of embedded training. DARS consumers who might not be a fit at Walgreens or at other training sites are being hired by other local businesses (with a recommendation from the business where they were trained).
Partnering with DARS VR programs to hire a qualified applicant who has a disability is first and foremost, a good business decision. Many employers who work with the VR programs to recruit and retain employees with disabilities have learned that:
- Recruiting and training costs and turnover rates are reduced.
- They may be eligible for tax incentives and benefits.
- Most workplace accommodations for employees with disabilities cost nothing, while the rest typically cost $500.
- Accommodations in work schedules and tasks for employees with disabilities are similar to adjustments made for employees without disabilities.
- People with disabilities possess valuable problem-solving skills because they are experts in finding creative ways to perform tasks others may take for granted.
- Employees with disabilities are dependable, dedicated, and productive.
- The experience of working with people with disabilities increases every employee’s morale and productivity.
- After acquiring a disability, employees who return to work after rehabilitation help reduce training and hiring costs. Employers who have return-to-work programs establish a culture that regards employees as valuable—not disposable.
- Employees with disabilities reflect the customer base and can help craft effective marketing strategies to reach this lucrative market for companies that hire them.
Learn More About How DARS Can Help Business Customers
For more information, call Rebecca Soto at (512) 377-0583.