Disability Groups Gather in Washington, D.C. for a Common Purpose

“Let’s Elevate the Dialogue” Around Disability Employment in America

Today in our nation’s capital, the National Organization on Disability joins with a fifteen leading disability organizations from across the country to focus attention on the critical issue of employment for people with disabilities.

Sponsored by United States Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and featuring special guests, NOD Chairman Tom Ridge and National Council on Disability Chairman Neil Romano, the gathering represents the third time these disability organizations have come together at the request of Gov. Ridge.

NOD's Charles Catherine, Carol Glazer, Rep. Jim Langevin and Gov. Tom Ridge

In April and October 2018, NOD convened these organizations in a “Disability Employment Roundtable.” The coalition collectively identified two policy priorities to work on together: (1) eliminating “14C” certificates, which allow employers to pay workers with disabilities sub-minimum wage; and (2) to bear down on enforcing the 503-rule change for federal contractors.

“When this coalition of disability organizations recently met with the U.S. Labor Secretary, he notably didn’t ask about political affiliations. He understands, as we do, that our issue cuts across party lines,” said NOD President Carol Glazer. “The most important social and economic issues all do. Employment is one of the most vexing challenges facing the disability community today. Gatherings like these elevate the dialogue and ensure policymakers have a better understanding of what needs to be done.”

Today at the U.S. Capitol, the coalition is briefing elected officials at a Congressional Reception sponsored by these nine coalition members, DiversityInc and The Hershey Company. The group anticipates reconvening twice more in 2019.

The sponsoring organizations are:

  • American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD)
  • Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD)
  • Autism Speaks
  • Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
  • DiversityInc
  • National Center for Learning Disabilities
  • National Council on Disability (NCD)
  • National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS)
  • National Federation of the Blind (NFB)
  • National Organization on Disability (NOD)
  • Ridge Policy Group

Additional coalition members include:

  • The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN)
  • Disability:IN
  • Judy Heumann
  • National Association of the Deaf (NAD)
  • National Council on Independent Living (NCIL)


Gov. Tom Ridge
Gov. Tom Ridge
Sen. Bob Casey
Sen. Bob Casey
Alicia Petross, Senior Director Global Culture, Diversity and Inclusion, and Engagement, The Hershey Company
Alicia Petross, Senior Director Global Culture, Diversity and Inclusion, and Engagement, The Hershey Company
Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland
Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland
Lance Robertson, Assistant Secretary for Aging; Administrator for the Administration for Community Living, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
Lance Robertson, Assistant Secretary for Aging; Administrator for the Administration for Community Living, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
Neil Romano, Chairman, National Council on Disability
Neil Romano, Chairman, National Council on Disability
DiversityInc CEO + NOD Vice Chair, Luke Visconti
DiversityInc CEO + NOD Vice Chair, Luke Visconti
The Hershey Company was represented by Alicia Petross, Ipalla Cooke, Joanna Turner, Ken Woodruff, Lisa Slater, Lorie Sedlmyer, Marc Rinaldi, Tim Daniels, and Tim Hinegardner
The Hershey Company was represented by Alicia Petross, Ipalla Cooke, Joanna Turner, Ken Woodruff, Lisa Slater, Lorie Sedlmyer, Marc Rinaldi, Tim Daniels, and Tim Hinegardner
JPMorgan Chase + Co's Jim Sinocchi with Gov. Tom Ridge
JPMorgan Chase + Co’s Jim Sinocchi with Gov. Tom Ridge
Judy Heumann, Joyce Bender, Carol Glazer, Gov. Tom Ridge and Candace Cable
Judy Heumann, Joyce Bender, Carol Glazer, Gov. Tom Ridge and Candace Cable

4 Ways to Expand Inclusion of People with Disabilities

February 21, 2019, Deborah Stadtler

As companies face a war for talent and a lack of qualified workers in many fields, individuals with disabilities are being recognized as a source of engaged, committed employees. According to the 2017 Disability Statistics Report from the Institute on Disability, nearly one in eight people in the U.S. has a disability and that number is rising annually.

Companies that succeed in incorporating candidates with disabilities have seen 28 percent higher revenue and two times higher net income, according to a 2018 whitepaper on accessibility from Accenture. Workplace Initiative, a network of companies, nonprofits, and government agencies working to remove barriers for those with disabilities, reports that those companies also experienced reduced turnover, lower recruiting costs, increased productivity and improved customer outreach.

“The most immediate challenge for many companies looking to advance disability inclusion in their workforce is knowing where to start. Topics like digital accessibility, Section 503 compliance, or self-ID surveys may be new territory,” said Felicia Nurmsen, Managing Director of Employer Services at the National Organization on Disability (NOD). “A good first step is to establish your baseline, so you can prioritize goals, strategically allocate resources, and track year-over-year progress. One tool is NOD’s Disability Employment Tracker, which offers essential data to benchmark your employment practices and performance against other companies.”

Companies looking to recruit and hire those with disabilities can leverage many of the practices developed for their diversity & inclusion programs. A 2017 Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey showed that while 57 percent of respondents had diversity hiring goals, only 28 percent had disability goals.

Consider the following four ways of building inclusion:

1. Create an inclusive culture. 

Companies that are inclusive of those with disabilities manage their culture in various ways. Some survey employee attitudes and invite employees to self-identify; others nominate a diversity champion and support disability specific resource groups. Including senior leadership in messaging and awareness efforts helps underscore the importance of inclusion.

General Motors extends their culture of inclusion by partnering with outside groups, such as a pilot program with the Michigan Alliance on Autism, as well as internal special interest groups (SIGs), such as the GM Able employee resource group. “Further, we have a Disability Advisory Council that meets quarterly to focus on specific issues for the constituency,” said Ken Barrett, Global Chief Diversity Officer for General Motors.

“Marriott has created Talent Network Teams (TNTs) that were designed to bring associates together to ideate, collaborate and build relationships,” said David Rodriquez, Executive Vice President & Global Chief Human Resources Officer at Marriott International. “We created a TNT on improving the guest experience for Travelers With Disabilities, which generated tangible and actionable outcomes and engaged our associates.”

“We feel strongly that creating an inclusive culture where people with different abilities are present, welcome and accommodated is the best approach,” said Julia Trujillo, Senior Vice President of Global Talent and Workforce Development at MetLife. “We have taken steps to raise awareness and develop skills with our employees, as well as to ensure our processes and systems are inclusive of all abilities.”

2. Broaden your talent practices. 

Companies should examine practices at all stages of talent management, from recruiting and benefits to retention and advancement, when attempting to recruit and hire those with disabilities.

“Inclusion is a deeply ingrained aspect of our company culture dating back to the company’s origin as a family business,” said Rodriquez. “Marriott has a longstanding commitment to hiring and supporting people with different abilities in the workplace. Our hiring initiatives focus on partnerships with community-based organizations, ensuring our locations are trained on laws related to disability, and regular disability awareness communications.”

“In many of our markets, we have partnered with external organizations to help us hire talent that is differently abled, “said Trujillo. “For example, our recruiters have been trained to maximize engagement opportunities with, and accommodations for, candidates of all abilities. We’ve also trained our recruiters to ensure they know how to engage with candidates who have unique needs.”

3. Foster wider awareness. 
“A new disability inclusion effort will fall flat without building trust among employees,” said Nurmsen at NOD. “Raising awareness is an important step to combat stigma and lend authenticity to your message, and representation and storytelling are powerful tactics that bring your corporate values to life.” Many companies celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month, benchmark their progress with tools from non-profit organizations, and feature employees with disabilities in branding materials.

“Our culture of inclusion is strengthened by TakeCare, Marriott’s global employee well-being program, “ said Rodriquez. “We cultivate and celebrate our shared responsibility to maintain an environment where every associate feels they belong and can freely express their ideas and talents. A few years ago, we launched the Ability to Succeed campaign with a video that highlighted a number of associates whose journeys include a variety of disabilities both visible and non-visible. The campaign kicked off a series of events, communications and enhanced training that led to increased self-disclosure of disability status in our workforce.”

“We have long had an employee resource group to support our employees who are differently abled or are caregivers,” said Trujilo. “This group has done a tremendous amount to raise awareness with our employees.”

4. Prioritize access for all. 

Providing access goes beyond just physical structures to resources, electronic and digital access, and inclusive design. Accenture, a company that has won accolades for its inclusion of people with disabilities, includes job skills training, accessible software design and artificial intelligence solutions as part of their strategy.

Prioritizing accessibility and accommodation is a critical area in meeting inclusion goals. GM’s Disability Advisory Council is a cross-functional team of executives and employee resource group member focusing on improving inclusion of those with disabilities. The council has championed captioned broadcasts, improved processes for requesting accommodations, generated better lead resourcing for talent acquisition and hosted educational lunches and articles.

Organizations that carefully examine and enhance these four areas will be well on the way to improving their inclusion of individuals with disabilities. Building a more diverse workforce will not only boost the bottom line, but increase productivity, reduce turnover and create a better brand image.

Read on HR People +Strategy


HR’s Guide to Interacting with Employees of All Abilities

“It’s a matter of becoming more aware of the people you’re with,” Felicia Nursmen of the National Organization on Disability said during a webinar.

AUTHOR Katie Clarey | PUBLISHED Feb. 13, 2019

Humans tend to form perceptions about people with disabilities based on their interactions with others who have disabilities, according to Felicia Nursmen, managing director of employer services at the National Organization on Disability. While experience can sometimes lend wisdom later on, it can also feed unconscious biases, Nursmen told attendees listening to a webinar she hosted Tuesday afternoon. Once those biases are in place, they may complicate relationships between people with and without disabilities, specifically in a professional context.

For the 96% of attendees who said they know someone who has a disability, this means they may have a little work to do in identifying their prejudices and correcting any misinformation. Most of the workforce in the U.S. will be in need of this, too, if that statistic holds up among the general population. To deal with these biases, it’s best to take a three-pronged approach, Nursmen recommended. “Recognize your own bias. Focus on people. And increase your exposure to bias,” she said. “What’s most important is that we ask the right questions and that we’re having the right conversations.”

Nursmen proposed anyone interacting with colleagues with disabilities take up an attitude of learning. “Don’t stop interacting with people because you’ve made a mistake or because you fear you’re going to make a mistake,” she said. “Learn from it.” From there, professionals can adhere to a couple key rules, add respectful language to their vocabularies and, finally, familiarize themselves with the best ways to interact with people according to the kind of disability they have.

The golden rules

There is one guideline everyone can follow when interacting with a person with a disability, regardless of what kind of disability the person may have: “Always ask before you assist and take the answer,” Nursmen said. “You do need to follow their lead and follow their wishes.” Nursmen said she was walking once with a colleague who had a mobility impairment and he tripped and fell. He said no when she asked if she could help him up, and for good reason — he knew how to get up without hurting himself, something she would have done had she grabbed his arm and tried to tug him up.

People shouldn’t assume they know how to help someone with a disability. They shouldn’t assume they understand someone’s disability, either, Nursmen cautioned attendees. “Never make assumptions,” she said. “It’s never appropriate in the workforce to ask if someone has a disability. It really isn’t our business in the workforce, in the workplace, what is happening with someone personally.”

In terms of compliance, this suggestion takes on more nuance. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an employer generally cannot ask someone whether they have a disability or inquire about the nature or severity of a disability. An employer can ask, however, if a person can perform the duties of a job with or without an accommodation and ask him or her to describe or how he or she would do the job.

Watch your language

When talking about about a person with a disability, it’s important not to define them by their disability. “What we tend to focus on now, and this really has been in the last five or 10 years, is using person-first language, which means the person comes before the disability in the description,” Nursmen said. Instead of calling someone a disabled person, say that he or she is a person with a disability.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. In general, people on the autism spectrum prefer identity-first language, according to Nursmen. This is true for people in the Deaf community as well. “We have a very strong and very proud Deaf culture in our country,” Nursmen said. “It is just important to be aware of that and be respectful.”

Nursmen allowed that there are some who will disagree with these guidelines. “We don’t want people to get caught up in the language of it,” she said. What’s more important is to know what not to say. “I don’t know of anyone who has ever had a positive experience being called retarded or a retard. We do not use that language any longer. It really is not acceptable.”

She noted a few more words and phrases to avoid. People have physical disabilities — they’re not “handicapped.” “This one can potentially be one of the most difficult because we still see the handicapped placard and handicapped signs,” she said. In the same vein, people are not “wheelchair-bound” — people use wheelchairs or are wheelchair users. Lastly, people have psychiatric disabilities, not mental illnesses, according to Nursmen.

Learning how to best interact with people with specific disabilities

Many people have difficulty interacting with someone with a disability because of fear, Nursmen said. Knowledge will allow people to overcome that fear. “It’s a matter of becoming more aware of the people you’re with,” Nursmen said. That said, people need to understand how to behave around people who have an array of disabilities. Here are Nursmen’s best tips to interacting with people who are deaf, who are blind, who have mobility impairments, speech impairments and cognitive disabilities or different learning styles.

  • When getting the attention of someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, tap the person on the shoulder, look them in the eye and speak clearly. Keep your hands away from your mouth as you talk. If the person is working with an interpreter, be sure to speak to the person and not the interpreter. If you’re having trouble communicating with someone and no interpreter is available, you can ask to use your phone as a temporary solution.
  • When approaching a person who is blind or visually impaired, make sure to speak as you approach. “Say your name, speaking in a normal tone,” Nursmen said. “If the person has a service dog, allow the dog to do its job.” When walking with that person, you can ask if he or she would like to take your arm. From there, that person will take the lead — follow as directed and give verbal alerts as to obstacles coming your way.
  • When working with someone who has a mobility impairment, make sure to think about accessibility when planning work outings, conference attendances and any other activities. And, Nursmen noted, if a colleague uses a wheelchair, never push it before asking or being asked to do so.
  • When interacting with someone who has a speech impairment, prioritize your own understanding. It may sound counterintuitive, but it’s respectful to the person speaking. “If you do not understand that person, make sure that you ask them to repeat themselves,” Nursmen said. This request communicates to the person that you value what he or she has to say.
  • When collaborating with someone who has a cognitive disability, have patience and be prepared to repeat information you may have already given out. “When completing forms or doing projects or working together on things, be patient, flexible and supportive,” Nursmen said. Try to think of different ways you can communicate, Nursmen suggested. Some people with cognitive disabilities will have no problem completing a task once given instructions depicted by pictures rather than written down on a piece of paper.

Bring NOD’s best-in-class Disability Etiquette and Awareness Training to your workplace. Just contact our Professional Services team at services@nod.org

Read on HR Dive

NOD’s ‘Look Closer’ Campaign Featured in NYC Taxi Cabs and Bus Shelters

Campaign Urges Corporate America to ‘Look Closer’ and Rethink Hiring Practices

Photo of NYC bus shelter with Look Closer posters under plexiglass.

NEW YORK (February 15, 2019) – The National Organization on Disability (NOD) and the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) today announced a partnership that will allow NOD’s new Look Closer public-awareness campaign to be featured in New York City taxi cabs and on 50 bus shelters across the city. As part of the partnership, PSAs featuring messages that urge U.S. employers and job recruiters to think differently about people with disabilities when they seek to add new talent are running on New York City Public Access and Taxi TV.

“Led by the outstanding work of Commissioner Victor Calise, MOPD has long been a proponent of employment for the city’s disabled population,” said NOD President Carol Glazer. “We are grateful to MOPD for helping us to extend the message of the Look Closer campaign to thousands of New York commuters and visitors so that we can expose them to this important message.”

Nine companies with a combined U.S. workforce of more than one million people and annual revenues upwards of $250 billion have joined forces with NOD to support this movement, and pledged their commitments to disability inclusion. They include: Anthem Inc., ConantLeadership, DiversityInc., EY, The Hershey Company, Prudential Financial, PwC, Spectrum and UPS. And thanks to the generosity of Morgan Stanley, whose “Lights on Broadway” initiative provides donated ad space to nonprofits, the Look Closer campaign was featured prominently in Times Square during October for National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

“It’s a privilege to work with the National Organization on Disability to help amplify their Look Closer campaign,” said NYC Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities Commissioner Victor Calise. “It’s good business to hire people with disabilities since they are our largest untapped talent pool. In a society that unfortunately still has barriers to full inclusion, people with disabilities have often become accustomed to working harder to reach their goals. We hope this campaign will lead to more business owners looking to diversify their workplace by employing more people with disabilities.”

In addition to supporting the Look Closer campaign, MOPD has established NYC: ATWORK, the first business driven, public-private partnership for employment for New Yorkers with disabilities. This collaboration with business, colleges, vocational rehabilitation and non-profits agencies and city government is connecting NYC: ATWORK participants who are unemployed or underemployed to meaningful, living wage jobs across the city’s five boroughs.

Look Closer PSAs ran on donated space within NYC taxicabs during the busy holiday season in December 2018 and will resume next week. The bus shelter PSAs will run from February 11 through March 11 at 50 locations citywide.

Today’s strong economy is forcing employers to consider talent that they might previously have overlooked, including individuals with disabilities. It is in this context that Look Closer urges hiring and recruiting managers to seriously consider this largely untapped talent pool, highlighting the oft-unrecognized abilities and workplace contributions of unique individuals across the country. In a time of near-full employment, 80% of Americans with disabilities should not be out of work.

To learn more about what employers and the general public can do to increase employment for people with disabilities, including downloadable resources, visit www.NOD.org/lookcloser. Visitors to the website also can find more details about the campaign’s partner companies and read inspiring employee stories.


About NOD

The National Organization on Disability (NOD) is a private, non-profit organization that seeks to increase employment opportunities for the 80-percent of working age Americans with disabilities who are not employed. To achieve this goal, NOD offers a suite of employment solutions, tailored to meet leading companies’ workforce needs. NOD has helped some of the world’s most recognized brands be more competitive in today’s global economy by building or enriching their disability inclusion programs. For more information about NOD and how its professional services, Corporate Leadership Council and Disability Employment Tracker™ can help your business, visit www.NOD.org.

About the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD)

Operating since 1973, the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) is the liaison between New York City government and the disability community. In partnership with all City offices and agencies, MOPD consistently ensures that the rights and concerns of the disability community are included in all City initiatives and that City programs and policies address the needs of people with disabilities. Through its work and advocacy, MOPD has steadily improved services and programs for the over 885,000 New Yorkers who self-identify as people who are living with a disability as well as the approximately six million annual visitors to the city who have disabilities in all facets of life including transportation, employment, healthcare, housing, education, access to City services, and financial empowerment. Working to make New York the most accessible city in the world, the office regularly engages in advocacy and policymaking at the local, state, national, and international levels to make certain that accessibility and full inclusion are key priorities for all public and private stakeholders alike. Learn more about MOPD by visiting nyc.gov/disability.