7/17/2013 @ 9:55AM |104 views
I had a candidate reach out this week which really hit me close to home. It was actually the sister-in-law of a candidate. The sister and candidate both have cognitive disabilities of some sort. They are both in their 50s now and have led independent lives, thanks to parents who demanded they could and advocated for their abilities. The woman who contacted me was nervous because her sister’s physical disability had become too profound for her to continue working and her brother-in-law lost his job of 15 years when the company closed shop. The only government assistance they had ever received wasSection eight housing, housing assistance for very-low income families and they were now struggling to meet their rent. Someone had referred her to Opportunity Works, Inc., the staffing and recruiting company I started two years ago, with a focus on recruiting candidates with disabilities.
At the end of the call I realized something. I had graduated high school with the person on the other end of the line. I never knew about her sister. I grew up thinking there were not many people with disabilities around me. There weren’t. Her sister didn’t go to our school. She went to a “center” school, a special school for students with disabilities. Thanks to battles probably fought by her parents, my son goes to his neighborhood school. All of our schools accommodate students with disabilities now.
This call concerned me for a couple of reasons. First, Opportunity Works is a tiny company only operating for two years. So to think that someone in dire straits has been referred to me is scary because I don’t have job orders in high volume. Second, the choices the parents of this woman made sound very much like the choices I am making for my son. They chose not to enroll her daughter in government services with the notion that she was capable of doing for herself.
She has her driver’s license and a car and she is married and lives independently with her husband. It all sounds good, but she is on the brink of homelessness and now and being turned down for services because she’s never needed them before. This is the scary reality of people with disabilities who have worked in earnest not to take advantage of services available to them. The result is the services not being there for them when they do need them.
Many times I have told people that I have gambled my livelihood on my ability to prove the value of including disability in the workplace. This week, it has occurred to me that I have gambled my son’s potential at some type of assistance. I am so glad I hadn’t thought in these terms 18 months ago because I might have given up at the thought of that risk. Luckily two years into this, I’m seeing signs that it was a good gamble. I am encouraged that there are three other companies in this country striving for the same mission Opportunity Works is striving for, so I’m not alone in this. I am encouraged to know that some of the big dogs in this industry, like Manpower MAN +1.14% are focused on this largely untapped talent. And, I am encouraged to know that large companies like Lowe’s are training their leaders and aggressively learning how to accommodate and recruit people with disabilities.
More importantly this week, I am happy that I had a job order that very well matches this candidate’s skill set. I am recruiting for one of my dream positions to recruit for, a position with generally high-turnover and almost impossible to find reliable help. I have provided a candidate who has 15 years with his previous employer and the only reason he left is because they closed their doors. He had a phone interview with the HR Manager and will next be meeting with the hiring manager. I think he’s a shoe-in because this organization is spending a fortune dealing with turnover and unreliable help. I hope he’ll get the job because if he does I will feel much better knowing that his family isn’t going to fall through the cracks into homelessness and I will feel much more confident, once again, about the decisions I am making for my own family.
Judy Owen is the co-founder and chief operating officer of Opportunity Works, Inc. a full service staffing company focused on recruiting people with disabilities.