Disability Employment Podcast: Hard truths and hope from veteran recruiters

by Gaby Gramont

Disability employment: Hard truths and hope from veteran recruiters

As part of Disability Employment month, we sat down with TorchLight’s Julie Lowe and Stephanie Ranno to discuss hiring biases related to disabilities. Here’s a quick snippet of our video coming soon!

Find the full video transcript below:

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Julie Rutherford: October is Disability Employment Awareness Month, and we want to share an important conversation about disability employment with you. We’re speaking today with Julie Lowe, Torchlight Chief Culture Officer, and Stephanie Ranno, our Vice President of Business Development and Account Services. Both Julie and Stephanie have been in the recruiting space for many years and both have children with disabilities and as such bring unique perspectives on disability employment and the issues and needs in the space.

Julie and Steph, we know that people with both visible and invisible disabilities have a much higher rate of underemployment or unemployment– eighty percent in a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics study. And that this is driven by bias exclusion and other inequities in the hiring process and workplace. You have both worked with thousands of candidates and hundreds of employers and hiring managers for screening and interviewing candidates, as well as negotiations and onboarding.

In what ways have you seen and continue to see the hiring and decision-making process for disabled individuals [as] biased? Julie, let’s start with you.

Julie Lowe: Well, I think in the searches that we do, we probably see that it isn’t the biggest thing that the employers focus on. It’s not the first thing on their mind when they’re doing searches with us or however they search for their next employee. So, you know, we sort of have to pull it out of them as we’re doing intakes with our clients to find out how they feel about it and what accommodations they provide and what their interview process looks like and so some are more educated in that space than others and I think it continues to be a challenge.

It’s not the first thing. It’s not a consistent process and I think that that’s what makes it difficult for us because it’s not consistent and so those bias’ [are] still there and finding the right “fit” as I put in quotes because the fit may not be exactly what somebody with an invisible disability or a known disability will show right up front.

Julie Rutherford: So Steph, what are your comments about this?

Stephanie Ranno: Yeah, I mean I think going back to your opening statement around what a large problem this is –that number of 80 under/unemployed. I think the biggest challenge for clients (as Julie mentioned) is there are so many other areas of underrepresentation and so when we talk to a client they’re saying “well I can’t do race and gender equitably in my organization, how am I going to consider disability or veterans status (two statuses that actually go hand in hand often).” I think for organizations that are small or mid-sized businesses they think, “it’s so daunting, I don’t have like all the knowledge, and all of the programs in place to be able to offer something, so I just won’t do anything.”

It’s like a fear, I think. You know, another fear is “well, if I do anything and I do it wrong… or I could get sued.” There’s this kind of litigious thought process that goes on in the backgrounds of every organizational leaders’ mind. So, I think all of those things add up to clients saying, “well, I will not actively try and discriminate, but I won’t do anything about the biases and the lack of accessibility or the ways that we’ve always done things that keep barriers up to hiring and then retaining employees with visible or invisible disabilities,” so it’s a lot.

I think one of the things that’s really heartening though if we think about numbers like 80 percent and people that aren’t disclosing– and I know we’ll talk about that in a bit—but I think that it’s why Julie and I wanted to talk about this together, because we both have children who we want to see have meaningful work opportunities and the clock is ticking. Time is up for some of us when it comes to wanting our kids– our children– to be on their way we’re in some type of gainful employment, so that’s why we care so greatly about it and why we’re trying to get more and more employers to care more greatly about it and make their hiring process more accessible and inclusive.

Julie Rutherford: Super thought-provoking and a lot of issues that you’re mentioning.

If we kind of get into the areas where you all have a specific impact right now, you know, as recruiting professionals in the search and staffing space, what are you currently working on to make the hiring process more inclusive of disabled candidates? Steph, let’s start with you this time.

Stephanie Ranno: One of the things that we talk about all the time here at TorchLight is a core value of continuous improvement. One of our other values is diversity equity and inclusion. Our third is integrity. So, to fulfill those kinds of values– to live them out in action every day– we are on a journey of learning.

The learning around how to make our job descriptions, our interview process, our assessment process, our work with clients more accessible and more focused on inclusion is what we’ve got to do every day. So we at TorchLight have done training with outside experts, we’ve taken the opportunity to create our own– with those outside experts– our own training of our inside staff so our front-line teams of recruiters and account managers can have informed conversations so that the candidates as they come to us feel safe to disclose if they want. And if they don’t then they can at least ask for accommodations without ever disclosing a disability.

So, I also think we share things like this out into the community so that candidates know that we care about these things. I mean you have to use your voice so that candidates know that there is a safe space for them to ask for the accommodations that they need. Additionally because we’re only one part of the hiring process we have to have these conversations with our clients they’re the organizations that are going to be retaining those people and hiring those people often into their teams full-time, so there are lots we’re doing but there’s so much more that we could be doing.

I think one other final thing is we’re giving voice to self-advocates. So, as part of this month of October Disability Employment Awareness Month, we want to make sure that those that are disabled –whether that’s a physical disability or an invisible disability– that they can talk about what they need in the workplace. That they are the experts on their lived experience. So, Julie and I have a lived experience as parents which is viable and valid, but it is not the lived experience of having a disability in the workplace so those are just a couple of the things I would say.

Julie Rutherford: Yeah, thanks Steph.

On your side, Julie, what are some of your thoughts about what you’re doing or we’re doing at TorchLight in the space of the hiring process?

Julie Lowe: Yeah, so, you know during the pandemic I feel like that was a time when (these issues have always been here) they really came to light in so many organizations. We took a lot of that time as well to really educate ourselves internally. As Steph said, two of our pillars are designated to this–continuous improvement and DEI– so we really are always learning, and so we took that time to start a process of building a foundation.

All of our team, everybody in any organization, needs a foundation– a baseline– to build from, so we started from ground zero and built up, and we built training programs we continuously do it. We have training sessions every quarter if not more internally. That helps us to also help with our clients and our candidates. Better understand our candidates, help our clients, with the whole full circle.

But, we are at a little bit of a disadvantage, I will say here, because we only can control so much of this right? We’re talking to candidates we’re identifying the right candidate, but we then turn it over to the client, it is ultimately up to them for their decision. So we’re at a little bit of a disadvantage, so we continue to work with our clients, educate them, and we all work together on that. We’re committed to it, but it is a continuous effort ongoing all the time. So– I would say that we’re continuing the movement right we’re continuing every day to learn more educate more and do better at it.

Julie Rutherford: Thanks for the perspective on the journey. You all have a very unique perspective as we’ve discussed disability employment as mothers of kids with disabilities – you know in addition to the actual hiring space recruiting.

Can you tell us a little bit about your experience and thoughts on disability employment as they relate to your own children? Julie, let’s start with you.

Julie Lowe: Sure, it’s very heavy on my mind. I have a 21-year-old son who has some disabilities that are mostly invisible to people that would interview him or work with him but they will surface and so he might get hired, but it’s a process of keeping the employment going and sustainable and the challenges we have– finding the right fit, the right employer, the right people that will understand him and give him those chances.

I have to share this– just yesterday– I was helping him to apply for a position with a major retailer for a very entry-level position that really didn’t need college or anything of that nature. The process was online and it took well over an hour and had he not had me here helping him, he would never have made it through it. I had to read it to him because there was a personality assessment.

Not only was it an application that was super complicated and not easy to maneuver, but then they took you to the next phase, which was this huge personality assessment. I administer them for TorchLight, and they’re very short. They take two to five minutes, and we are talking from mid to senior-level executives who are doing these types of things with us. This was an entry-level position for somebody, and this was so long and painful. I only share that because, I’m thinking you know, if someone didn’t have somebody sitting there side by side with them trying to push this through and then got no like response to it like we got you we got your application, and we’ll be back in touch with you so you’re left like, “what do I do now?”

So, it was a really interesting experience right before this to share because I thought “wow.” And I know that these types of employers are so short-staffed. Well, if their hiring process is this complicated, I can only imagine why, you know. So this was that was just a first-hand experience or something like that, but it’s long and involved with someone who has a disability at this age. They just need extra help and extra support.

Julie Rutherford: Yeah, thanks for sharing those challenges.

It sounds you know very difficult and I know Steph you have a slightly different experience on this because of having younger children, can you share kind of what you are going through right now and some of your thoughts about it?

Stephanie Ranno: Sure, so you know Julie is definitely going before me. I feel it’s really amazing to be able to be with a small firm and have leaders and colleagues and co-workers who are going through similar journeys, and sometimes a little bit before you. So, I have a 12-year-old and a 9-year-old. Both are neurodivergent, on the autism spectrum. My son, who’s older, was diagnosed a little bit later; my daughter was diagnosed early, so about two and a half, and kind of presented more “typically” for autism. My son also has a number of learning disabilities so all “dys’s” right: dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia and ADHD. I hate to describe him in that way because he is more than a combination of his disabilities.

Every person and human is more than the challenges or struggles or differences that they have, right? I think for me, one of the things that have been so interesting being in the recruiting space (for 17 years or something really long) is to know that we have like ideas of what meaningful work should be, right? We have ideas of who can do work, right? And really I think it’s almost like a basic human right to be able to have an opportunity to do some level of work and contribution– not just because it makes you feel a sense of contribution to the world, but it also gives you a connection to community – and it makes sense if you think about it, but there’s such a high level of depression and anxiety and social isolation.

Oftentimes, for many people, you’d think, “well, they graduated from college. How come they haven’t landed a job?” Well, Julie just described the high level of anxiety that can be produced, and just shut down that can happen to try to go through an application process for what is likely an entry-level job. Imagine that with panel interviews, and what are all the social you know constructs you need to make sure you don’t mess up because that means you’re out of the interview process. I think about all the ways that students and then future employees could maybe show versus tell their experience. I know Microsoft right now, you can develop an app– like you play a game– you play one of their games– to show how you can code, or how you can communicate, or how you can collaborate maybe without verbal communications.

Maybe you’re great at writing things down. So, I think that we think that when it comes to disability employment that there have to be these huge programs. I ask, “why can’t people answer your interview questions, half of them in writing? Why is it that you have to verbally describe them for every single job? Is that necessary? Could you show your aptitude–your experience level– your skills in a different way?”

So, I think the other thing that I think of on that clock is ticking front is there are so many children that are graduating out of programs. 21 you’re often graduating out of whatever educational system/program you’re in and then you kind of fall through the cracks. And this is not like a couple thousand people, this is tens of thousands of young adults every year who are either graduating and then they’re floundering, and here are their parents. Right here is a parent, right here.

So, the final thing I want to say too is that on your teams right now you either have somebody that’s disabled or you have someone who is a parent or a loved one or a caregiver of someone that has a disability. Like, if you have a team of more than five– one in four people in their lifetime are going to have a disability –someone on your team right now is going through this experience very likely. So, to think that it’s rare is wrong.

Julie Rutherford: Thank you for that. A lot of things for people to think about and consider.

You know to continue with that you know if you were to write a letter to hiring managers– you know as parents or as just hiring professionals– what would the two or three things that you’d like to say to them regarding disability inclusion and employment? Steph, could you share with us kind of your thoughts on that?

Stephanie Ranno: Yeah, so, I would say if I were to write a letter to a hiring manager I would say assume aptitude, assume capability and offer various ways to show it. That may be different than how you show your aptitude and ability, and it is no less. So, oftentimes, we want to consider people with disabilities to do certain types of jobs.

Like, oh if you have autism, you’re going to be great at coding, or you’re going to be great at you know software engineering, but don’t do a customer service job. That could never work for you, and I’m thinking “no like assume that there is competence and aptitude and give people various ways to show that.” So that would be my number one thing to hiring managers. Think about the ways that you have set up your hiring process that may be exclusionary. If you’re using words like “culture fit ,” if you’re using rubrics like culture fit –dissect what that means what that really means if that’s why you’re screening candidates out. Those would be my–yeah–messages to hiring managers.

Julie Rutherford: Yeah, thank you. Those are definitely good ones.

Julie what are your thoughts, what would you like to include in a letter to a hiring manager?

Julie Lowe: I’m living it now all the time so I feel like I want to write every one of them one is– my son is looking for a job, right?

Dear employer, please approach this with patience. This is not going to be– my son is not going to be your typical employee. Hey, we’re all unique. Let’s be real, we’re all unique, and we’re all different, so let’s treat everybody as such. There’s not a cookie-cutter approach to your employees, so please approach with patience.

Secondly, he might need some extra resources. So, what that means is training. He’s going to train a little differently than somebody else. He may need to do it a couple more times than somebody, so check in with him. Maybe give him different ways to learn. Everybody learns differently, so does he need to have somebody side by side? Does he need it written? Does he need to have you demonstrate it and then him do it and give him feedback? Find out how he learns best. Really, this is no different than asking any employee how they learn best, so is it really that much different than anyone else? Everybody learns different. So, find out how he learns best and provide those extra resources for him and training.

He will come with the job coach right, not everybody’s going to come with a job coach. And hopefully– I say this hopefully– he will and that’s someone you go to if they’re– if you’re having struggles. Don’t assume that you need to terminate him for something, like give him a chance. That would be my third one, give him a chance. Let him prove to–to do the best he can, and maybe more than one chance, right? So, even in an interview if he didn’t do a great job on the first one, but you see potential, give him another chance. Have him come back in, have him answer it differently, and have him demonstrate it. Just try different things to help him be successful. And that’s what I would wish to future employers would do is the bottom line: give a chance.

Stephanie Ranno: Yeah, yeah, it’s so interesting you say that Julie, too because one of the things that jogged my memory is that we work in marketing– we work in areas where companies spend millions of dollars in personalizing emails to sell you a razor. If we can spend that kind of money to sell you a razor or a skin care product, why can’t we take that kind of energy– that kind of creativity– and personalize the hiring experience? Why are we doing it the way we’ve “always done it?” Interviewing the way we’ve always interviewed? Assessing the way we’ve always assessed? Hiring and managing –”managing”– the way we’ve always managed? Why can’t we take a highly personalized approach to management?

And, you know, frankly this will work not –well– not just for those that have disabilities, but for an employee that is more introverted and isn’t raising their hand in your meeting, and it’s because you always require them to raise their hand and speak up and bust out the extroverts that are me, right?

Why not offer them the opportunity to write down their ideas and send them in advance? Why not offer them an opportunity in your “brainstorming session” where all the extroverts like me are like, “ooo, I wanna talk, I wanna talk,” and raising our hands–like jumping on our seats– why not offer a time in brainstorming to do individual – you know– thought ideation? So, I think for it’s for me, it’s frustrating, as you can tell because I see what we do what, what people spend millions and millions of dollars doing in the marketing space (again to market you a product) and I go, “why can’t we do that in the hiring process? Why can’t we do that in the management process?” I think we can, I think we can.

Julie Rutherford: Thank you all. I want to flip now to the candidate side, right.

And if you were going to write a letter to candidates with visible or invisible disabilities, what would be the two or three things you’d say to them regarding finding new jobs, disclosure of their disabilities, and other things related to getting and keeping or staying in jobs? Julie, what’s your perspective on that?

Julie Lowe: Yeah, I think that individuals with either visible or indivisible they’re in different places, right? Some may be not comfortable disclosing, may feel more comfortable hiding it, or don’t want people to know. Others are very much their own advocates, and so I guess my wish would be is to be your advocate, right. If you know what you need, so if you are you know various ADHD and you know that you need certain tools or you have more of a visible disability and you need certain accommodations, just know what you need.

I think that comes with confidence, so know what you need and be confident to share –hopefully you are– with that hiring manager. Often they say it’s not to the HR people necessarily, but it’s that trusted confident–confidant in your organization that will be side by side with you, and we’ll look out for you. So, it’s knowing what you need, understanding your own disability and to be your own advocate, to be confident in there, and to those are the if you do that you likely will get what you need to be successful. That would be my wish.

Julie Rutherford: Yeah, good advice there.

Steph, your thoughts?

Stephanie Ranno: Yeah, so, I would say – similar to Julie– is to ultimately, if you’re a candidate, is to find community and you can often find your confidence through like-minded community, right. Because I think– I think again, back to that social isolation, if you feel like you’re the only one –whether it’s within your school or within your workplace or even just in looking for a job/the job seeking process– it will end up becoming a vicious cycle, right.

You–you get rejected you feel like you can’t do it then it’s harder to apply, then the applies take longer to do, then you’re going into an interview feeling negative and self-conscious, and you’re not showing up well, and it just becomes this vicious cycle. I would also say it disclosing is– what I’m coming to learn from self-advocates– is it’s highly personal, right, you don’t have to disclose your disability to ask for accommodations.

Think about it, you can ask for how you best receive information, so “I would do really well if you can communicate with me via to do’s or a task list” or “I would really [prefer to have] certain meetings recorded so I can listen to the transcripts.” You yourself can turn on the closed captioning as you’re going through meetings, so as to follow you know the conversation better or to revisit the conversation for key points so that when your boss says, “well we said that in the meeting” and you’re going, “we’re on a meeting for 90 minutes, I don’t remember half of it” or “I have problems with memory recall with short-term memory.” I mean, these are real things– a language processing disorder.

So I think knowing that you can ask for accommodations without disclosing a disability, knowing that the vast majority of people who ask for accommodations aren’t disabled– they’re working parents who need flexibility, they’re –you know– someone who needs flexibility to take care of a parent–an aging parent– so they’re all different kinds of ways and then when you feel trust with that manager, oftentimes, that’s where people most feel they can disclose. Then when you feel that level of trust, that’s okay. You know you can do it when you feel like it’s right.

Julie Rutherford: Yeah, thank you. This is similar to some of the questions that you have answered or some of the points you’ve made– I just want to talk a little bit more about inclusion that goes beyond the hiring process.

What are some specific things –maybe a few of the top things– that organizations can do to give people with disabilities the best chance of success in their roles once they’re hired, and really make them feel truly valued as an employee and as a team member? Julie?

Julie Lowe: Yeah, I think that one of the main things that I’ve seen with my son too is having a trusted point of contact within the organization. So, somebody that if they’re having a hard day or you know– especially if they’re customer facing, you know that can be hard in anybody’s life, but for someone like my son it can really tear him down.

You need somebody you can go to and say I’m having a hard time. So a trusted, trained individual I think is really important. A mentor or a trained manager. And I think that that is something that we don’t have in a lot of organizations. Some are better than others and some are prepared to handle this, but I feel like if –maybe this goes to a government thing– I don’t know you know. Without that– I feel that we need some sort of funding for organizations to have at least one person who can work with individuals with disabilities or be a point of contact to be able to help them once they get a job– get a job, keep a job.

There are lots of organizations out there that a lot of people probably don’t even know about: Department of Vocational Rehabilitation–I’m working with them right now– they work with an individual and help provide a job coach through other agencies that they work within and that– when you go out they will help you literally recruit and get an interview on the job. They also come to the place of employment to help them train, either side by side or regular check-ins, so the hiring manager just needs to be educated on that. They need to understand how do I access– this is a free resource! This is somebody right here who’s going to help me train this individual. It is a win-win, so work with those resources that can be provided by people.

Not everybody probably knows about those resources or has them, so just being a little more sensitive to it. But really being trained, understanding, working with different organizations –whether it’s you know free training, YouTube, human resources, non-profit organizations. All of them provide amazing training that you don’t really even have to pay for. So I would really that would be– to help my son, I’m just going to put it back in my son’s place, or anyone with a disability, is having somebody on site who has the training and resources and patience to help them keep the job.

Julie Rutherford: Excellent, excellent, thank you.

Steph, what are some of your thoughts in this area of specific things that hiring managers/organizations can do?

Stephanie Ranno: Yeah, I love that Julie mentioned vocational rehabs. I had never even heard of that term before I had kids with disabilities. I didn’t know what it was and the first time I heard about it was actually at an Autism at Work Conference out at Microsoft –now I think their program is neurodiversity at work, so it’s more broad.

They had these organizations, vocational rehabs, that bring together nonprofits and job coaches and employers. If you know the resources, that’s kind of the first step right figuring out like, “yeah, I do want to make disability employment and inclusion part of our company no matter the size. All right we don’t have a big enough budget to support huge initiatives right or a full-time staff member okay, so who are those big companies that have those budgets that have created these programs that I can use their playbooks, their best practices? Where do I find that?

So, I’m going to give you two places one is DisabilityIN, it’s an organization that has tons of resources for leaders at all levels and you can use the playbooks that have been created from companies like EY, SAP, Microsoft, Lowe’s, Bristol-Myers Squibbs. There are hundreds of companies that have made disability inclusion a part of their organizational mission or their organizational DEI Mission and use their– use what they’ve created. Don’t reinvent the wheel. You don’t have the money? Go use the resources that they put into place.

The other thing, particularly for those with maybe autism or ADHD which is fairly common or can be considered a little more common in the invisible disability sphere, is JAN Network. I found this in looking for some resources for us individually and it has resources both for the employer j-a-n Network– Job Accommodation Network (JAN)– as well as resources for the candidates, so if you are a staffing firm and you want to be able to provide broad resources for your candidate populations– you– there are resources there. So, you know, if you’ve got a couple of minutes just Google and find look at these two and kind of do your research– make that commitment of time. I know time is money but make that commitment of time and you would be surprised at what you can put into place.

Julie Rutherford: Excellent, thank you for some of those tools and resources and I just want to make sure everyone out there knows that we will be providing a transcript of this entire –you know recording on our website, as well as a list of some of the tools and sites that have been mentioned, so if you’re furiously scribbling– feel free– but we’re also going to have that for you to refer back to. So– and you all have both mentioned some employers or/and organizations who are getting it right, doing some really good things and places where employers and disabled people can go to get help. You know, Steph, since you had already mentioned a few right in your response, can you talk a little bit about some clients and organizations they might be partnering with who are doing some good things that people can think about?

Stephanie Ranno: Yeah, definitely. I know Julie having been in this area for a long time knows of some of these organizations too, but you know, happenstance maybe that a number of our current clients –including Miter and CGI Federal– are working with an organization here in the Mid-Atlantic called “Melwood” and that is helping particularly with neurodiversity/neurodivergent candidates accessing opportunities in the cyberspace. So those are two of our current clients. I know organizations like Goodwill also have commitments and actions around disability employment and again there are so many I mentioned that there are even some in the staffing world: Rangam Consultants, which is out of New Jersey.

I’ve been I’ve met I met those this CEO and president at that Microsoft Summit that I mentioned– they’re doing amazing work in particularly in employment for all, so they’re– this conversation– I mean the ADA is 30 years old right. So this conversation has been happening prior to the ADA getting passed 30 years ago, but I think that the burgeoning of social media, self-advocates being able to get their voices heard in different ways has allowed for this conversation to continue to come to the forefront. So, those are just a couple– and again Disability IN has an amazing list of so many companies that are doing it right they recognize employers for their work in this space.

Julie Rutherford: Excellent, thank you.

Stephanie Ranno: And one more thing, sorry, just as I’m thinking about this because so often we think about this as like a “corporate social responsibility, feels good do good, this is great, we’re do– look at how good we’re doing for– this is good for your business. If you’re bringing people to your organization– into your organization– into your marketing teams, into your sales teams, into your customer, into your product teams– they’re going to develop products that can be accessed by more customers.

You are going to build brand loyalty, you are going to build employee loyalty, employee engagement. All of the numbers, and these aren’t just like numbers that you know nonprofits are putting out. These are numbers put out by McKinsey and by Gartner, so these are consulting firms and research firms that are saying, “have an inclusive team, you will do better profitability wise. Your products will be better, your marketing will be more inclusive and better because you have a team that is inclusive and representative of more individuals.”

Remember, one in four people in their life will experience a disability at some point. That’s a lot of people. So, I just want to kind of plug a bit around the business case for this– is not just it’s good –and yes it is good. The more people that are working, it’s better. Believe me, Julie and I, we will be better when our kids are gainfully employed.

Julie Rutherford: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point on the business stats because you know there have been many studies about diversity, equity, inclusion. How that adds to everything from the bottom line to innovation, developing products that meet the needs of all kinds of individuals, including members of the disability community.

Julie to move to you, I mean I know there’s a lot of this that you know from your professional life. I also know you’ve done deep research in some of the training, education, living resources as you’re as you say living this right now, what are some things you’d like to get– put out there.

Julie Lowe: Yeah, I think as has been mentioned here it is a win-win and it isn’t just being a do-gooder thing. It really is it helps so many– including your bottom line– but let’s just talk about where/what I have had to learn. I lived in DC for 20 years and recently just now in St. Louis, so I have to sort of start all over and find out what was here. So, I learned a lot in DC about so many resources that were there they’re national organizations, but then coming here to the Midwest I really had a dig for them, right. I have found some and some amazing people out there that are hidden and you really got to go looking.

So, you know, the Arc is amazing not only they have employment programs, they have training programs –constantly– virtually for parents for when they’re you know aging kids. Steph had mentioned 21, we call it “the cliff” once you age out of the system what the education provides– if you’re on your own –you’re on your own and you’ve got to figure out what are we going to do now. And so you really gotta be proactive and get out there and find where can I get training? Where is that extra training? What companies will provide it?

So the Arc is great, there’s a St. Louis Arc but there’s a National Organization A-R-C which provides amazing stuff for individuals with disabilities. Easterseals they do an employment program, they actually partner –a lot of these organizations partner with the Department of Vocational Rehab. So, the Department of Vocational Rehab just kind of gets you started, gets the ball rolling, then you partner with these agencies that they work with and it’s funded by the Department of Vocational Rehab to these agencies– Easterseals, Goodwill, the Arc, Paraquad– a whole myriad of agencies that help with recruiting, job training, find partnering with clients like ours. So, if you’re a client wanting to like, “how do I get into that?”

Find some of these non-profit organizations, find out how you can be a partner with them. They help you. You get a job coach. They’ll help these people. Universities here in particular– it’s a program at the University of St Louis– has a program called Succeed, mostly for individuals with on the spectrum, on the autism spectrum.

It’s life skills training and they partner with a lot of companies around here after employment once they’ve gone through the process. Another program is in Arizona it’s called First Place. It’s also for individuals on the spectrum, it’s an independent living situation but it’s also partnered with the university so they learn a skill, they learn social skills, they learn life skills, and then they partner with these companies to get jobs. So, it’s all about like purposeful life.

Everybody needs a reason to get up and get out of bed every day and job employment, making a fair wage, you know having a life is just so meaningful to so many. So, there’s a lot of resources out there within organizations that don’t cost a lot of money, so I would just say we’ll include these here. I’m just scratching the surface on the many resources that we’ve had to find.

Julie Rutherford: Thank you all both for such valuable feedback and perspectives as you guys are on this journey yourselves, what are, you know, any closing comments that you all might want to make?

Anything else you want to add before we wrap up?

Julie Lowe: Sure, you wanna– you wanna go?

Stephanie Ranno: You can go first, Julie.

Julie Lowe: I will. I think we talked about this. I feel like we’re talking about it– we’re coming from a place, two different places, right. Somebody who’s living it right now as an older child with– also our clients and our candidates– so we have like kind of a full circle. Steph’s got younger ones coming up the ranks behind me and some days it’s hard to feel hopeful but I will say you have to have hope. I have hope that people are learning.

I have hope that there are really good people out there who want to see my son succeed just as much as I do and so I will leave with the note of hope, and that I hope that people will hear this, and learn from it, and embrace this within their organization to offer hope to kids like mine and Steph’s. And our candidates.

Julie Rutherford: Yeah.

Well, Steph, what about you?

Stephanie Ranno: Yeah, I mean I would say the one thing that is so important too– if I think about this from a workplace standpoint– is this can’t be all about the candidate with a disability. This has to be about your overall organizational management capabilities, the hiring managers, the team members, so that it’s you know it goes beyond the hiring process, and it goes to changes that make– that make your organization in total better.

We haven’t touched on this word and idea of include of “universal design” but when we think about universal design from a building perspective we think, “okay, there’s a ramp to get into that building,” right and that makes it accessible for someone with a wheelchair, but it also makes it accessible for somebody that is pushing a baby carriage, or for an elderly individual who may be walking with a cane. So, we can see those things.

It’s harder to think about in things like processes, so I would challenge people to think about like maybe a little bit of it is burning it down a bit and building it back up in a way that’s most inclusive because I am hopeful, but I also know that on the reality side we still have not moved the needle on 80% under or unemployed. Julie’s son is still looking for work that’s meaningful and that’s consistent for him. That is happening for her right now, this week.

So we can be hopeful, but we also have to be realistic about the urgency of what we’re trying to do. Julie feels it right now. I feel it kind of right at my back and so many people that are not –that are parents, loved ones, caregivers feel it every day, and you’re it’s tiring, it’s exhausting, it’s demoralizing. It is very hard and there’s and that’s just us. We’re not even the person with a disability, so that struggle for that person with disability is even greater and at times. Not to lessen what we’re experiencing because we have different lived experiences, but I would say there is hope, but there has to be urgency behind the actions that each of us take in what I say like in our own spheres of influence. Where can you have influence in your life? It’s workplace, it’s church, it’s community, it’s schools, it’s your families, so.

Julie Rutherford: Thanks again so much for sharing such expertise in the hiring space and your truly personal and both painful and hopeful perspectives on your own families. I also want to thank everyone out there for taking the time to listen, and we invite you to continue the conversation– both you know in your own companies and your own lives– and also if you have time and are interested you can jump on our LinkedIn page because we’re continuing to share perspectives all month and beyond.

And we’ll have a little info again on our website about how you can do that and again the full transcript and some tools that you can use to further educate yourself and get help if you need it, and we think everybody could use more and more education so anyway thank you again, and we look forward to continuing to talk about these and other really important conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Julie Lowe: Thank you.

Stephanie Ranno: Bye, thanks.


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