October 21, 2010 in Business

Hire Ability Day touts workplace accommodations

Disabled employees prime investment, speakers say
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Smart businesses are hiring workers with disabilities now because they know entry-level job openings will go begging in 15 years when there will be fewer workers to fill them, said former Assistant U.S. Secretary of Labor Neil Romano.

Employers are finding workers that, thanks to federal education mandates, are better prepared for the workplace than those hired in the past only as favors or charity cases, he said at the annual Hire Ability Day luncheon.

Romano, who overcame severe dyslexia to graduate with honors from New York University, start his own business and join the administration of President George W. Bush, said he and others with disabilities are marginalized by those who do not know who they are or their capabilities.

His own mother, he said, had only one question when told the president would nominate him to the Labor Department post.

“Neil, does the president know you can’t spell?” she asked.

Romano said the United States, founded on the premise that all men are created equal, has bettered itself every time a marginalized group – slaves, immigrants and women, for example – has been integrated into the nation’s political and economic systems.

He bristled at the pushback from employers unwilling to invest in “accommodations” that might be necessary to bring a worker with a disability into the workplace. Companies seldom hesitate to give employees the tools they need to do the job, he said.

He noted a Cornell University study that found “productivity enhancements” for the disabled, with costs averaging between $300 and $600, return $10 for every $1 invested.

Romano said disabled workers should present themselves as value propositions, and he praised the job-shadowing Wednesday morning that matched 24 employers to potential workers.

Brian Kingsbury, district manager for Safeway, said the company got more than expected when David Kascek was hired as a bagger 18 years ago.

He was soon handed responsibility for store-brand pop displays, Kingsbury said. When there was a minor equipment breakdown that required a repairman, Kascek volunteered to fetch his tools from home and fix the problem.

He did, and he continues to handle small repairs. Kascek also has cartooning skills he applies to making in-store posters, Kingsbury said.

“We had no idea,” he said.

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