Employment Without Limits: Creating Opportunities for People with Disabilities

Hosted by

Steve Boese

Co-Founder of H3 HR Advisors and Program Chair, HR Technology Conference

Trish Steed

CEO and Principal Analyst, H3 HR Advisors

About this episode

546 – Employment Without Limits:Creating Opportunities for People with Disabilities

Hosts: Steve Boese, Trish McFarlane

Guest: Dr. Jennifer Luebke, Chief Workforce Inclusion Officer, PRIDE Industries

This episode of the HR Happy Hour is sponsored by Paychex, one of the leading providers of HR, payroll, retirement, and insurance solutions for businesses of all sizes. As you reevaluate your benefits offerings this fall, don’t overlook the advantage of having the right 401(k) plan. Havnig the right plan not only can help with employee retention, but can truly serve as a talent magnet for your business. Discover how offering a 401(k) plan can play a vital role in keeping your business competitive, and how you can find the plan for you and your employees. Visit paychex.com/awiaand download Paychex’s free guide to 401(k) planning, today. 

This week, we met with Dr. Jennifer Luebke from PRIDE Industries, to talk about creating opportunities for people with disabilities.

–  National Disability Employment Awareness Month

–  Diveristy, inclusion, and workplace accomodations for those with disabilities

–  Background of PRIDE Industries and how they can help

–  Recommendations for hiring neurodiverse individuals


Thank you for joining the show today!  Remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts!

Transcript follows:

Announcer 0:24
Welcome to At Work in America sponsored by Paychex. We welcome a wide and exceptionally impressive array of guests, business leaders, HR leaders, academics, practitioners, consultants and authors to talk about the most timely, relevant and challenging issues that are influencing the workplace today. At Work in America digs in behind the headlines and trends to the stories of real people making a difference in the world of work. And now here are your hosts, Steve Boese, and Trish McFarlane Steed.

Steve 0:59
This episode is sponsored by Paychex, one of the leading providers of HR, payroll, retirement and insurance solutions for businesses of all sizes. As you reevaluate your benefits offerings this fall. Don’t overlook the advantage of having the right 401 K plan. Having the right plan not only can help with employee retention, but can truly serve as a talent magnet for your business. Discover how offering a 401 K plan can play a vital role in keeping your business competitive. And now you can find the plan for you and your employees. Please visit paychex.com/awia and download Paychex free guide to 401k planning today. That’s paychex.com/awia.

Steve 1:41
We have a great show for you today. Trish, I am super excited about the show. Did you know October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month?

Trish 1:52
You know I did but I’m glad you’re mentioning it because we actually have a report that we are putting out on accessibility and inclusion in the workplace. We’ve been working on it for close to two years now. Both qualitative quantitative data. So yeah, today’s episode two is just going to add to that wealth of information. And I’m happy that we’re going to be actually putting some additional light on that in the month of October.

Steve 2:16
It’s a perfect topic for the month of October. It’s a great topic for what we’re trying to do At Work in America. So I think we should get right on to it. Our guest today, we’re so thrilled to have it’s Dr. Jennifer Luebke. She’s the Chief Workforce Inclusion Officer at Pride Industries, who we are going to learn a lot more about today on the show. But as the chief workforce inclusion officer, Jennifer leads the company’s workforce inclusion programming strategy and operations, using innovation and data to develop integrated community based employment pathways for people with disabilities. Additionally, she influences employment policies that impact people with disabilities by working with local state and national legislative offices, and community advocacy organizations. Jennifer brings more than 25 years of corporate business, higher education and nonprofit leadership to pride industries. Jennifer, welcome to the show. How are you?

Dr. Jennifer Luebke 3:11
Thank you, doing well. And thank you so much for having me on your show.

Steve 3:14
We’re thrilled to have you. We love the topic. We talked very briefly before we started the show. The background is fantastic. I’ll start with a kind of a just a little bit of the story. Your story, Jennifer, if you don’t mind sharing a story. This is a great organization with a great mission. I’d love to know a little bit more about what compelled you because you had a great and interesting career before this. What compelled you to kind of find yourself where you’re at in Pride Industries?

Dr. Jennifer Luebke 3:41
I mean, my son has an intellectual disability. He was diagnosed when he was four and a half with global developmental delays. And at the time, I was working in accounting, leading large accounting departments never really knew anybody with a disability. And so this really opened my eyes to this population of people, given that my son had a, you know, was diagnosed with a permanent disability. The doctors told me at the time, that he would never live a normal life, he would live at home with me for you know, forever, and that he would never go to college. So the things that you that many parents, I think, hope and dream for their kids just wasn’t going to happen. So he’s currently 23 years old. He’s a college student, a fourth year student at Georgia Tech. I live in California. He lives in Georgia guess the doctors were wrong. And he’s in a program specifically for students with intellectual disabilities. And it’s focused on work, how to get him prepared for work and for living independently. So advocating for my son, for his friends for many families that I met, just through being involved in this community, led me to my role at Pride.

Dr. Jennifer Luebke 4:59
It was very organic, I did not plan on it. Most of my jobs that I quite frankly took were so that I could balance my life and my work together to take care of my son. And I was doing some consulting work for Facebook, and I got a call saying, Hey, we’ve got this role that we think you’d be great in, given your, your, your body of work with advocacy, and, and all the other business and higher education work could I have done, and I was a little bit hesitant because I don’t have a traditional rehabilitation industry background, I have an advocacy background. So they told me that they were looking for someone with the business and education skills that I had, and someone who knew very deeply about people with disabilities. So, you know, this is something I’d studied for my doctorate in education, that I that I have people with disabilities is, it’s the community that I feel closest to at this point, given my son’s diagnosis.

Trish 6:04
You know, thank you for sharing that. I think anytime you have a personal connection to something, it just really resonates with people. But what strikes me the most, and it’s because I have people in my life who also have different types of disabilities as well. And quite often you’re told, they’re never going to live a normal life. I’m gonna do air quotes, right normal life. And I just I’m always curious, because there are definitely, you know, families where they get those diagnoses and they’re just devastated. And that’s it. Right, they believe it is what made you or your family, your friends who who knew him or know him, right? What made you kind of push past that initial diagnosis? I’d be curious as to what really made you kind of move forward beyond it and get him where he is today?

Dr. Jennifer Luebke 6:49
Yeah, I think it was that. I was wondering, how did this doctor know, with complete certainty that this was going to happen? And why wasn’t there hope that was given to me as a parent, because the diagnosis itself didn’t do anything for me, to help him it was a pre destined sort of, this is what he’s never going to do. So I think for me, it was it was just sort of the shock. And really the anger of how do you even know, I mean, He’s four years old? How do we know? So? If so, if that was the case, if, if that was the case, okay, that’s great, I’ll get prepared for it. But how do we really know what anyone you know? Who’s a child is ultimately going to achieve in their life? Or be? What? Why are we putting limits on kids, why not, instead, open up the doors and see what they can do. And help them to be the best that they can be. This is for anybody with or without a disability. Right? If you are limited, if people are talking with you about limits, for when you haven’t even developed, you haven’t even gotten to kindergarten yet. I just find that to be, you know, extremely. It angered me, let’s, let’s just say, so I think that’s how I pushed past it. I thought, okay, that’s your opinion, that’s, that’s awesome. And if that’s the case, that’s absolutely fine. But let’s, let’s see what he can do.

Dr. Jennifer Luebke 8:21
And so he was, he’s my only child, I didn’t have any other kids, if you will, to compare him to, right in front of me. And I would I just taught him and, and worked with him as if I, you know, just, he’s my kid, these are the things that he’s strong, and these are the things that he’s not as good in, I’m not going to frustrate him by working, you know, by trying to fix the deficits, what I’m going to do is just try to get him to be the best that he can be. At first I did say, you know, I, in my mind, I thought, well, how can we overcome this? How can we fix these things? And I quickly learned through educating myself really, that that he is perfect the way he is. So anybody with you know who is neurodivergent anybody who is physically disabled, anybody who has intellectual or other, you know, physical disabilities, they are perfect exactly the way they are. Our environment was created by people who are who could see could hear had a particular IQ range, who, who built our systems and our structures in a certain way to fit the majority of people. And what they did was they excluded this minority. And so therefore, we spent all this time trying to create accommodations so that people can fit into our society, rather than bringing them into the conversation and saying, How can we design a college? How can we design design, a workplace or a school system that reaches the white the widest number of people pool. So that’s my philosophy on inclusion and accommodations.

Steve 10:08
Jennifer, thank you. That’s a great like segue, I think to some of the other things we wanted to talk with you about about specifically what you do. And the big team over there at Pride Industries does you said, Jennifer a minute ago, like why place limits on kids, you sort of ask that rhetorically, and I’d say like, why place limits on adult slash employees or potential employees, right, and a big part of what pride exists for and I think I read a little bit of the founding story this morning as well. It’s about creating those kinds of opportunities for people like your son, I suppose, in the world of work, right. And so maybe, you know, without a little bit of context, maybe talk a little bit about private industries, for folks who maybe don’t know, and then we’ll get into some of the ways you know, how these disability and inclusivity of folks who are differently abled say, matters in workplaces. So, so tell us about pride a little bit, if you don’t mind.

Dr. Jennifer Luebke 11:06
Yeah, Pride was started by parents of adults with intellectual disabilities, who wanted more for their kids. And it was started in 1966. It has since grown, we are now a $430 million social enterprise. So we’re a nonprofit, by our filing status, but we are a social enterprise in that our mission is to create employment for people with disabilities. So we have many different services that we provide. We have custodial services, we provide commissary services on military bases, we have a manufacturing and electronics floor, where we put together different electronic devices, medical manufacturing, we provide a lot of services. And our goal in terms of business is not only to make a profit and to serve as a profitable business, but also to make sure that we are employing people with disabilities and giving them an opportunity to work. As we are carrying out our business, I run the workforce inclusion team, and this is a team of about 400 people. And our job is to help people with disabilities acquire a job retain their job and to develop in their careers. So we work with them to provide skills training, and to help them get that job, that first job. And we also help them navigate their careers. Again, so many people in society and employers place limits on a person with a disability. And so once they’re employed, we think, Oh, great, we’ve done our job. I mean, I think a lot of people think that way, when we’re looking at people with disabilities, but just like anybody else, they’re able to develop skills, and competencies, and perhaps even try to find a different career or a different job. And so we’re here to help them move along the path of employment.

Trish 13:09
You know, thank you for sharing that. One of the things I was thinking about, as you were just talking about that is, I think, often whether you are a parent of someone who has a you know, a different disability, mental or physical, or you’re you’re someone just maybe thinking about working with employees that might have a disability of some sort. Not only do we underestimate them, right, but I think that the problem really is us, right? It’s society not communicating with them, we’re assuming they, like you said before they have a problem to fix. When really, we should also be thinking a little bit about us, how are we able to alter our behaviors, the way we communicate, to fit into their world? what’s comfortable for them? I’d love to hear your thoughts a little bit on, you know, obviously, we Steve and I are very passionate about companies hiring people who are differently abled across the board, and we’ve done many shows about this, but I’d love to hear your thoughts specifically on you know, if if I’m in an organization, and we’re not doing this, or maybe I’m a parent of someone who has been given maybe diagnosis, they just cannot work in the normal world, right? What do you say to those people to help get them ready to kind of accept and do what it takes to bring someone who’s differently abled into their organization?

Dr. Jennifer Luebke 14:31
Right? Well, the first thing is that the definition of disability and the number of people who are in that, who are labeled, if you will, in that category, depending on the institution that you get your statistics from, vary from 15% to 26%. So according I believe, to the US labor department, it’s one of one out of five so 20% of people have disabilities. The World Health Organization says it’s 15 1%. And then the CDC says it’s 26%. And it includes a wide variety that includes people that have mental health diagnoses, it includes people who have physical disabilities intellectual, so there’s a wide range. So if you think about that population in the world, that’s over a billion people in the world who have a disability. So as far as being a company, chances are that you already have a person with a disability or people with disabilities in your company, but you just don’t know it, because they don’t want to self disclose, perhaps they have a disability that is non apparent, it’s non apparent to others, and they hide it. So that you know, because they don’t want to be thought of as incapable or less than.

Dr. Jennifer Luebke 15:49
So that’s the first problem is just making an environment creating an environment where people feel very comfortable about self disclosing, not just their disability, but what support needs, you know, would help them do their job even better. And so by first, you know, asking your employees and making it safe for them to disclose self disclose your disability, most companies will probably find that they’ve got a particular percentage, specific percentage of people with a disability. And then secondly, once you know who those folks are, I would say, ask, ask that group of people, what would make it better? What would make the environment better for you to do your job? And how can we make it clear to people that we’re trying to recruit, that we are open and welcoming, and inclusive of people with disabilities such as yourselves. So I think those are the first steps. And once that gets going, then, you know, that just opens, I think the gates for more people to feel comfortable about applying for a job to know that if they self disclose that the company will work with them to provide accommodations, the average amount, a lot of people think accommodations are going to cost a lot of money. But the average cost for an accommodation for person with a disability is $500. It’s $500. If you think about any sort of training program or anything like that, it’s going to cost at least $500. So it’s just a part of making sure that an environment a work environment is ready to include people with disabilities. And also that initiative is included in the greater diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives of a company that could really help expand the population of people with disabilities.

Steve 17:51
I’m glad you brought that up hands, this falls into that larger remit of diversity, equity inclusion that we’ve seen, and rightly so so many organizations, take on those programs and initiatives over the last Let’s call a decade or so it’s probably maybe even perhaps longer, most medium to large companies, certainly, at this point, have a chief diversity officer or maybe even a chief diversity and inclusion officer named in their their leadership, team, etc. In so maybe, Jennifer, from your either your experience and advocacy or your experience working with organizations that you know, through private industries. Are there Sue? Barriers? Or you mentioned costs? Maybe the perception accommodations are gonna be too costly? Are there other? Is it awareness? Do? What are some of the reasons why organizations have yet to say fold in disability inclusion underneath the broader umbrella of DNI? Are there other things that come up?

Dr. Jennifer Luebke 18:47
Yeah, you know, I think it’s awareness overall. And I do think that disability is sort of that last frontier of all of the different the differences that people have. And so I think that there just hasn’t been enough intentionality around it, again, because of the stigma that perhaps people with disabilities are less capable than, than people without disabilities. Ultimately, what it comes down to is really looking at the job and looking at the skills of a person and how you can make that perfect match. So you know, and I think if we normalize disability as part of the human condition, right, people with disabilities don’t need to be restored or fixed or changed or they don’t need to overcome things. We just need to look at what they what someone with a particular disability, what are their strengths, what are their abilities, what achievements and what education do they have, and really focusing in on that can help us normalize it in the space of business, but again, it’s awareness and that’s, that’s I’m so glad that we have national disability employment awareness month in October. to really focus on that with employers to say, you know, you know what, if you’re looking to hire, which many employers are looking to hire the population of people with disabilities at somewhere between 1520 or 26%, you’re missing out on a group of people with talents and skills that you can hire. If you could just make a few adjustments to your environment, your attitude, your posture of your your perception of people with disabilities.

Trish 20:33
You know, I love that you phrased it that way. Because, as you were talking about how you would go about hiring someone, and what skills to look at and their abilities and their education or whatever. That’s how we hire everyone. Right? Really, it’s like, why wouldn’t we be doing this for people who have either mental or physical differences? It should just be the that should just be the way we hire period, right? That’s exactly I love that. You just normalized it by just even phrasing it that way. It just really hit me. I wanted to call out that that’s very important.

Dr. Jennifer Luebke 21:08
Yeah, thanks. And I also think, too, that we go through these interview processes with with people, so we ready people for to answer questions in an interview. And I question for some jobs, the purpose of that, and if we should think about interviewing people differently, right. So if you have someone who is perhaps neurodivergent, on the autism spectrum, they’re not going to make perhaps not everybody, but you know, they may not be comfortable making eye contact, they may be very literal, in their answer to you. And so taking that into consideration, that there’s a difference in the way that they operate. But instead of making someone you know, go through an interview process, where you’re not really learning about their skills, how can they demonstrate their skills, so that we can just skip that that part of the process? I mean, being creative about acquiring talent, is key in terms of bringing people with disabilities into the employment arena?

Steve 22:07
Trish, I was thinking a lot as we’ve been talking and prepping for this show. But some of the other shows we’ve done on this topic, and I was specifically thinking about the show we did with one of the researchers at Vanderbilt in the Frist Center for Autism Research, I was to we were specifically specifically we should get him back on the show. He was great. But we were specifically talking about interviewing for folks, for neurodiverse, folks, and what struck me was many of the recommendations, he gave me three or four very specific recommendations, he was giving folks who were maybe going through every process, they made perfect sense for anyone you were hiring, going through the interview process, like, don’t ask that silly. So tell me about yourself question, right? That’s very awkward, no matter who you’re asking that question of I don’t want to answer that question. Even myself, right. You know, so I think that’s a very well made point. And for a lot of these things are just, they make sense, both for folks who may be disabled in some manner, or make sense generally, and they’re not. They’re not costly. They’re not arduous. They’re not really a big change, right to normal sort of talent and hiring and, and workforce practices. These accommodations, generally speaking, are not that expensive, not that significant. And the, it’s really just that awareness slash perception barrier, that we still right, come up against a lot.

Dr. Jennifer Luebke 23:30
Yeah, and I think, you know, even on my team, you know, my executive assistant is deaf, we make accommodations for that, it’s really not that difficult. And I’m taking, you know, taking ASL, sort of self study courses, so that I can better communicate with him. But we have an interpreter that comes in for large meetings so that he can participate. I’ve got somebody else on my team, who she has a medical condition where she needs to be, she needs to be out on on a couple days a week, for a couple hours. So we just schedule around that. It’s just part of what we do. And I think, truly when you think about human beings and the support that just in general human beings need, instead of wondering what someone’s disability might be, and how that might hinder them. I mean, really don’t all of us as human beings just need support, we might need support at different times, we could be givers of support, as well as receivers of support. So if someone’s going through, let’s say, a death in their family, they might need some extra support at work. So again, that normalization of disability, we call it out right now, because it’s something that we need everyone to be aware of and understand. But at the end of the day, it’s about what support do people need in order to feel like they belong at work, and to help them be their best at performing whatever the job responsibilities are, that matches their skill set. That’s it, right.

Steve 24:58
Super well said, Yeah, Jennifer and a great kind of way to frame this up and sort of send people off who are listening to this think about last thing while we have you for just a couple more minutes. Jennifer, I know I know your thank you for giving us so kindly of your time today. Maybe tell us just how organizations who are listening to this want to expand their DNI initiatives want to have are having trouble sourcing talented employees and need a need to tap into a new labor pool? Perhaps? How do they work with pride industries? And how can they learn more about what private industry does in, in concert in partnership with with external organizations?

Dr. Jennifer Luebke 25:33
Right, so for employers, if you look at PrideIndustries.com or anyone can contact me directly. I’m Jennifer Luebke. And you can find me on the website. We also have, for people with disabilities looking for employment, we have a helpline, a free helpline, it’s 1-844-I am able, 1-844-I am Able, and then again, for employers, prideindustries.com. We would love to partner with you if if an employer needs custodial services, manufacturing services, H vac services, we have those services available. And we also partner with companies to help provide people staffing basically for people with disabilities at their company. And we can help walk you through how we can break down tasks and help people with disabilities do that or just maybe help with the interview process. So all of that is what we do. It’s it’s my personal passion to help people with disabilities become employed. And it’s what pride does. It’s our mission, again, is to create employment for people with disabilities. And this is what our company is dedicated to doing. And we’ve been extremely successful at doing it for over 55 years. And we would love to help out any companies that have questions about how to do this and how to do it.

Steve 27:03
Love it. Thank you, Jennifer. Yeah, it’s really an interesting organization. I encourage folks to spend some time on the website really diverse, you’re in a lot of different areas. The founding stories quite fast, fascinating as well. There’s a whole timeline on the website. So you can read about the history of Pride, which I did for a few minutes this morning. And yes, it’s really great stuff. Nothing better way to kick off, I guess, Trish, National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Then sitting down for a little bit with Dr. Jennifer. I’m calling you Dr. Jennifer, as I’m jealous if I were a doctor, that’s all I’d be calling myself, Dr. Steve, like constantly. But Dr. Jennifer Luebke from Pride Industries. Thank you so much for spending some time with us today.

Dr. Jennifer Luebke 27:45
You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.

Steve 27:47
All right, Trish. Wonderful stuff. I love this. I love this type of show. I can’t wait. And I encourage folks, maybe when we put together the show notes, we’ll put some of those other links that we mentioned out there. To show we did with Vanderbilt, the show we did, we did a show with an organization called IDBI. A couple of years ago industries for the blind and visually impaired, very similar kind of mission to pride industries, that focusing on black blind and visually impaired folks as well. So that’s a great one to listen back to to.

Trish 28:12
Yeah, I think we’ll go ahead and get a whole group of shows together. We also did on hearing impaired, we’ve done it with Special Olympians, all sorts of different abilities. And so I think you know, also we’ve got our report coming out again, we’ll have that available on the website. And we’ll make sure that we include some of the information on Pride Industries in that as well.

Dr. Jennifer Luebke 28:32
That’s terrific. I can’t wait to actually read the report. And we will send you a copy. Please send it to me. Yes, I’d love to do that. So yeah, this has been great. Thank you so much. And I look forward to hearing more of the podcasts, the other podcasts that you’re doing and report.

Steve 28:49
Thank you so much, Jennifer. Thank you, Trish. Thanks, everyone for listening. Remember, check out all the show archives, HRHappyHour.net and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. My name is Steve Boese, thank you so much for listening. We will see you next time and bye for now.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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