Living with a Visual Disability during the Coronavirus Pandemic | The COVID-19 Experience from the NOD Team

March 20, 2020 | By Charles Catherine, Special Assistant, NOD

From left: Charles, Sen. Romney and Gov. Ridge
NOD Special Assistant Charles Edouard Catherine, Sen. Romney, and NOD Chairman Gov. Tom Ridge

I am standing in my grocery store, waiting for Willy, one of the workers who usually helps me to do my shopping. As I reach out and grab his familiar shoulder, I realize that something has changed, I’m reluctant to touch him.

I’m only 31 years old, but I have already dealt with my own finitude, I lost my sight about 10 years ago. Around 57 million Americans live with a disability, that’s about 20 percent of the population. But even during this crisis, people with disabilities still get out of bed and move through life despite new and unpredictable threats to our health. In many ways, to us, nothing has changed.

Of course, while simply having a disability doesn’t by itself put someone at higher risk from coronavirus, many people with disabilities do have specific disabilities or chronic conditions that make the illness more dangerous for them.

When I go shopping, or when I go for a run, I need someone’s help, I need to touch many things, and I have to remind myself to take extra steps to remain safe and healthy. But for some of my friends, this situation is even more complex. They can’t always isolate themselves as thoroughly as others, because they need regular, hands-on help from other people to do daily self-care tasks.

What I’ve learned during the past few weeks is that the greater risks for our community may not stem from actual disease, but from the disruptions in services and routines it can cause. Some people with disabilities depend on regular help and support from others to maintain their independence. Aides and caregivers may become sick themselves, or the risk of catching or spreading illness may require aides and caregivers to stay home. This crisis reminds us that we are responsible for one another.

I realize that I am fortunate, I am relatively healthy, I am able to work from home, and I actually think that during this crisis many companies will understand that they could have, and probably should have, more flexible work policies and accommodations. But I also know that many jobs will be lost in the coming weeks, and that just like in 2008, people with disabilities will often be the “last ones hired and the first ones fired”.

My parents would probably tell you that my disability has taught me how to live despite my fears, how to navigate a world full of potential dangers. Through my work with the National Organization on Disability, I have channeled some of my fear into advocacy. By organizing with advocates and leading companies who are supporting our work, by reaching out to elected officials with our concerns and needs, I feel useful, and try to accomplish a bit of change that makes things better for everyone. My hope is that in the coming weeks, we will apply the same energy to overcome our fears and come together as a community, be there for each other to face this pandemic.

If I have learned one thing through my disability, it is that there is something wonderful about human resilience, and that this quality is within each of us.

Charles Edouard Catherine joined the National Organization on Disability in 2018 as the special assistant to the president, Carol Glazer. With a background in Global Health, he served for several years as the executive director of the Surgeons of Hope Foundation. He successfully led the expansion of the organization from operating a solo program in Nicaragua to several ongoing, congruent programs throughout Latin America. A 2012 graduate of Sciences Po Bordeaux, France, Charles holds a Master’s degrees in International Relations. Charles is also a classical pianist of 25 years, a marathoner, and an elite triathlete.

Response to COVID-19/Coronavirus

Response to COVID-19/Coronavirus

The National Organization on Disability is closely monitoring developments related to COVID-19/Coronavirus. During this time, we remain committed to ensuring the well-being of everyone in our community. Some immediate measures we have taken as an organization are to:

  • Cancel our in-person events in the months of March and April and transition to virtual gatherings.
  • Ensure our staff are working remotely for as long as necessary. At this time, we know one of the most effective and powerful measures is to adopt social distancing and we are fully supportive of this strategy.
  • Remain in close contact with our partners and community members. We understand that COVID-19/Coronavirus may have a greater impact on persons with disabilities and remain committed to doing our part to ensure that persons with disabilities in the workforce and in the community are supported during this time.

Our leadership team will be in touch to share any changes in our regular calendar of events as and if applicable. We will appropriately account for all new developments, so as to safeguard all our clients, funders, partners and staff members.

Thank you,

The National Organization on Disability

Key Strategies For Boosting Disability Recruiting

A professional worker works in a wheel chair.

September 09, 2019 | BEST PRACTICES: Spotlight for Recruiting Professionals

When it comes to college recruiting, there are several common missteps or “missed steps” that employers commonly make in terms of recruiting students with disabilities. Felicia Nurmsen, managing director of employer services for the National Organization on Disability (NOD), says the thing she hears most from employers is that they want to understand how to find this talent.

“However,” Nurmsen says, “results from our 2019 Disability Employment Tracker show that while there was some growth in university recruitment, through NOD’s Campus to Careers program, we know that often there is a disconnect on campus with disability services and careers services.”

As a result, she adds, students with disabilities—particularly those who require accommodations—are not fully participating in the services offered through the career services offices and are not informed of the employment opportunities with companies interested in them as a large untapped talent pool.

“The common mistake is for companies to assume that they have access to students with disabilities through their existing contacts on campus,” Nurmsen says.

“Companies need to inform career services they are interested in hiring students with disabilities and expect to interview them while they are on campus.”

She says that having a recruiter with a disability on the campus recruitment team is also a clear indication the company hires people with disabilities. Furthermore, it allows students with disabilities to feel comfortable disclosing their disability and asking for an accommodation, if needed.

Nurmsen recommends that employers also provide training to their recruiters and staff on interview skills, disability awareness, and accommodations to empower them to feel confident in all interview situations.

“Recruiters must understand there are some guidelines on how to handle certain situations,” Nurmsen says. “Clearly establishing fit for a position must be their top priority with all candidates—including students with disabilities.”

She explains that if companies are not working with career services to distinguish students with disabilities as an important diversity segment for their business, they will miss out on this talent pool entirely.

“Research shows that the number of students with disabilities attending college has doubled in the last 10 years, with more than 40 percent of young adults with disabilities attending a college or university within four years of leaving high school,” she says.

However, Nurmsen continues, this statistic, paired with data from the 2016 American Community Survey showing adults with a disability and a college degree have an employment rate that is 10 percentage points lower than all adults with a high school diploma or less, and 27 percentage points lower than all adults with a college degree.

“Clearly, this indicates that a strong campus recruitment program will allow employers to take advantage of this large untapped talent pool,” she points out.

“The benefits of this targeted recruitment strategy continue to be highlighted as a best/emerging business practice.”

It makes good sense. Nurmsen points to a NOD/Kessler Foundation survey and recent Accenture research that indicate companies realized several benefits when hiring people with disabilities. These include:

  • A larger labor pool;
  • Lower turnover;
  • Reduced recruiting costs;
  • Positive diversity impact; and
  • Better retention rates.

NOD’s 2019 Disability Employment Tracker data show that the two most effective channels for disability recruiting are community partners and existing channels, such as recruitment agencies, websites, and others.

“On the other hand, use of job boards has gone up 5 percent, but the success rate stayed pretty flat at 48 percent reporting they hired through this source,” Nurmsen explains.

“University hiring is also interesting. There was some growth in use—up 4 percent to 54 percent—with 57 percent reporting they hired through this source.”

Still, even with college recruiting for students with disabilities growing, many employers struggle with outreach and recruitment, and require support from organizations like NOD to help identify the best local recruitment resources, with plan design and employee education, and provide overall support.

“This challenge may be mitigated by colleges and universities understanding the value of this sought-after population for employers,” Nurmsen says.

It is also important to understand what students with disabilities want from the employers they are considering for employment. This includes:

  • Mentors;
  • A clear understanding of the specific requirements their roles;
  • Support and accommodations that are easily requested and provided;
  • The ability to see themselves in the existing employee population; and
  • Opportunities for growth.

“Salary is important,” Nurmsen says, “but the overall experience, values, and culture need to align with their own values.”

Read on the NACE website