"President Bush wants all Americans to have the opportunity to develop skills and engage in productive work," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. "Recipients of the Secretary of Labor's New Freedom Initiative Award recognize the value that persons with disabilities bring to the workplace and that wisdom is reflected in their daily actions and operations."
In 2004, Secretary Chao selected nine recipients, who received their awards on November 17 in a ceremony at the U.S. Department of Labor. The nine awardees included one individual, four non-profit organizations and five businesses.
Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities
Secretary Chao (left) presents a New Freedom Initiative Award to Richard E. Marriott (center), Chairman, Board of Trustees, the Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities, as former Assistant Secretary of Labor Roy Grizzard (right) looks on. (DOL Photo/Shawn Moore).
Founded in 1989, through a grant from the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation, the Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities was established to enhance employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The Foundation brought together a team of national experts in employment of people with disabilities, and charged them with developing a program that would achieve the Foundation's mission.
Following a series of employer focus groups, the experts recommended a program that would address employers' needs in finding and retaining a skilled and committed workforce. The program, named Bridges . . . from school to work, focuses on preparing skilled and committed young people with disabilities to meet the hiring needs of employers. Bridges prepares youth with disabilities for the workplace, promotes the benefits of hiring candidates with disabilities to employers, and provides support to employers during the recruitment, hiring and retention phases of employing youth with disabilities.
Originally launched in Montgomery County, Maryland, Bridges has expanded to the District of Columbia, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco. All sites are operated in partnership with local school districts, state vocational rehabilitation offices and city and county workforce development boards. Additionally, each Bridges site has a Business Advisory Council that provides oversight and assures that program activities are responsive to labor market imperatives
The Bridges program is built upon a unique team of professionals called Employer Representatives (ER). Each ER is responsible for delivering every phase of the program to his or her participants. This multi-faceted relationship allows the ER to gain an intimate understanding of the skills, interests, dreams, and desires of each student, as well as accessibility and accommodation needs.
Building upon the success of Bridges, the Foundation launched Bridges Plus to help youth with disabilities focus specifically on creating a career path that will yield ongoing vocational growth and advancement. Each participant has an individualized Career Development Plan, which prescribes full engagement for nearly two years, and employs 90-day reviews and action planning to assure steady progress toward vocational goals. Elements of this plan include assessment of essential competencies for career development, self-advocacy, mentoring supportive services, family training, successful employment and career advancement.
In its first 14 years, the program has enrolled 8,661 participants, of whom 6,588 have acquired competitive employment. By the end of 2004, Bridges will have served nearly 10,000 youth with disabilities, placing almost 8,000 in competitive employment.
Secretary Chao (left) presents a New Freedom Initiative Award to J. Erin Riehle (center), Co-Director, Project SEARCH, as former Assistant Secretary of Labor Roy Grizzard (right) looks on. (DOL Photo/Shawn Moore).
Project SEARCH is a collaborative effort between the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Great Oaks Institute of Technology and Career Development, and the Hamilton County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities. Project SEARCH was created in 1998 and coordinates five distinct programs, including adult employment, high school transition, health care training, vocational education clinic, and program replication and dissemination.
Headquartered at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, Project SEARCH uses a business model to provide meaningful employment and education opportunities for individuals with significant barriers to employment. The model is characterized by non-traditional jobs for people with disabilities and strategic partnerships with industry, education and training, and support services. Service providers, funded by Great Oaks and the Board of Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities, are located full-time at Children's Hospital, where they become familiar with the jobs, managers and hospital protocol. Because of this onsite presence, they understand the employer's needs and can assess eligibility requirements and provide job-training, job coaching and follow-along services to their clients so that they can perform the specific jobs the hospital needs to fill.
Over 150 individuals with disabilities have been employed through Project SEARCH in challenging and rewarding jobs at Project SEARCH sites and throughout the Greater Cincinnati area, including two additional hospitals and a major bank. On average, those in the adult employment program earn more than $8 per hour, work an average of 33 hours per week and receive full benefits.
The High School Transition Program is a one-year, worksite-based school-to-work program for high school youth with developmental and/or physical disabilities. In addition to gaining work experience and career assessments, students participate in employability classes each morning, which focus on goal setting, career exploration and decision making, communication, job search, employment, money management and independent living.
The Healthcare Training Program provides customized short-term training for unemployed or underemployed adults at a socioeconomic disadvantage, preparing them to enter skilled positions in healthcare. Approximately 20 percent of the students in this program are persons with significant physical and/or learning disabilities. In the first four years of operation, 225 of 265 graduates entered employment after graduation.
Project SEARCH has been replicated in 10 hospitals in six different states, and is expanding its reach into new industry sectors, such as retail, insurance, small manufacturing and government.
Salt Lake Community College Skills Center Projects With Industry
Salt Lake City, Utah
Secretary Chao (left) presents a New Freedom Initiative Award to Christy Russell (center), Director, Projects With Industry, Salt Lake Community College, as former Assistant Secretary of Labor Roy Grizzard (right) looks on. (DOL Photo/Shawn Moore).
Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) is an urban multi-campus college serving the diverse needs of some 60,000 students in the Salt Lake City area. SLCC's Skills Center offers open-entry/open-exit; competency-based, non-credit courses, and intensive student support services for people who are educationally, socially or economically disadvantaged or have physical, mental, emotional or sensory disabilities.
The Skills Center's Projects With Industry (PWI), funded by the U.S. Department of Education Rehabilitation Services Administration, has been in operation for 20 years, and serves students with significant disabilities — those individuals who have the most difficulty in obtaining employment.
This project is a multi-faceted training and employment program. Services include business and computer courses, disability empowerment training, career advancement, internships and placement. The project is governed by a Business Advisory Council, comprised of representatives from business, industry, education, government, Workforce Development, the Utah State Division of Rehabilitation and PWI alumni.
Innovative practices include "tele-training" from home for students with significant disabilities, including on-line mentors and tutors available 24 hours a day; corporate coaching from an assigned business person for each student; disability empowerment training for students and awareness training for employers and organizations; Employment Job Clubs and Workshops; and flexible training schedules. On average, more than 70 percent of the Project staff are former students with significant disabilities.
Since inception, PWI has trained and placed more than 700 students with significant disabilities. During the past five years, the project has placed 168 persons with significant disabilities in gainful competitive employment, 80 of whom had been unemployed prior to project involvement. On average, each of the 168 persons increased their annual salary by $11, 232.
A & F Wood Products
Secretary Chao (left) presents a New Freedom Initiative Award to Jason Korte (center), Co-Owner, A & F Wood Products, Inc., as former Assistant Secretary of Labor Roy Grizzard (right) looks on. (DOL Photo/Shawn Moore).
A & F Wood Products, a family-owned and operated business in rural Howell, Michigan, provides employment opportunities to individuals with disabilities through accessibility support, training, and a workplace environment that is user-friendly. Currently A & F Wood Products, which specializes in the manufacturing of wood doors and frames, has 20 employees, seven of whom are persons with disabilities.
Working closely with Michigan Rehabilitation Services, the state vocational rehabilitation agency, and Work Skills Corporation, a non-profit employment and training company, A & F Wood Products has actively sought ways to broaden employment opportunities for workers with disabilities.
All new employees are given opportunities to experience different workstations, based on their ability and interest. The company also provides training that matches the employee's learning style.
Among the accommodations the company has provided have been rebuilt workstations, job coaches, accessible software for its computers, reconfiguration of telephones, and adjusted work schedules to match public transportation hours of operation. A & F Wood Products also offers its site for job tryouts and on-the-job evaluations that allow individuals to determine whether a job in a manufacturing environment is worth pursuing as a vocational goal.
In addition, the company consistently utilizes community resources to ensure a disability-friendly work environment. Management staff have met with Social Security representatives to learn how they could support a worker to live independent of Social Security. The company has also worked cooperatively with the Commission for the Blind to accommodate visually impaired workers, and it has invited an occupational therapist to assess its facility and make recommendations for appropriate accommodations.
A & F Wood Products shows its commitment to a diverse workforce, including people with disabilities, by using assistive technology, partnering with organizations that have expertise in identifying potential job barriers, and providing a diversified training program.
Palo Alto, California
Secretary Chao (left) presents a New Freedom Initiative Award to Michael Takemura (center), Director, Hewlett-Packard Accessibility Program Office, as former Assistant Secretary of Labor Roy Grizzard (right) looks on. (DOL Photo/Shawn Moore).
Hewlett-Packard (HP) strives to connect people to the power of technology and is working with local and global partners to build a foundation for universal access to basic technologies. The company focuses on making its own products accessible to people with disabilities and partners with others to create and distribute assistive technologies.
The company's Accessibility Program Office guides corporate-wide accessibility in product design, engineering, product development, marketing, web, services, support and programs for persons with disabilities. HP involves people with disabilities in the development of accessibility guidelines, and in the design and testing of products and services.
In addition, HP has been actively involved with the sourcing and recruiting of persons with disabilities, through partnerships with a variety of organizations, schools and external networks. The company has utilized e-recruiting sources of job candidates with disabilities, developed relationships with the University of Tennessee's Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities (COSD) program and with the National Technical Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and partnered with the U.S. Business Leadership Network and Vocational Rehabilitation Centers nationwide.
Among the workplace accommodations the company has made for its employees with disabilities have been ergonomic office setups/environments, special monitors or video devices, TTY telephones as part of the regular help-desk supported office options, printers with audio signals, screen-reading software, alternate tagging of images on its website, two-way pagers for deaf employees, motorized carts for employees with mobility impairments, digital real-time captioning, and enhanced lumbar support in company vehicles.
HP encourages a work environment that is inclusive, as well as accessible. Various activities have been promoted by the company to ensure the inclusive nature of the work place, as well as initiatives to encourage the employment of individuals with disabilities. Internship opportunities, including National Disability Mentoring Day, provide key opportunities for employment. HP also partners with local schools to bring students with disabilities to the company and matches them with HP mentors.
HP trains its employees on designing, producing, marketing and delivering accessible products and services. It is the only IT manufacturer to have the accessibility features of all its products documented and available online. In addition, the company has developed the HP Developer and Solution Partner Program, where assistive technology companies have free access to HP technologies, platforms and operating systems to create their own innovative solutions.
MBNA America Bank, N.A.
Secretary Chao (left) presents a New Freedom Initiative Award to Victor P. Manning (center), Executive Vice President, MBNA America Bank, N.A., as former Assistant Secretary of Labor Roy Grizzard (right) looks on. (DOL Photo/Shawn Moore).
MBNA America Bank is the world's largest independent credit card issuer, employing more than 28,000 people throughout the United States and Canada. The company has instituted inclusive hiring and retention policies for people with disabilities. Its management and training programs support a diverse workforce, and its community outreach efforts impact not only employment, but also the development of housing and transportation support services for employees with disabilities.
MBNA's workplace policies have resulted in people with disabilities routinely being hired throughout the company, as well as a unique supported employment model that employs people with cognitive and developmental disabilities in meaningful work at wages and benefits commensurate with similar work grades. This model has grown from a pilot with four people with cognitive and developmental disabilities at corporate headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, to a full-fledged Support Services Division of 340 employees who provide integral business services across departments in Maine, Delaware, Ohio, Maryland, New Jersey and Canada.
Managers from across all MBNA divisions have been educated and trained to manage diverse workforces, including training in disability awareness and etiquette. Each work environment offers hands-on learning opportunities and onsite job coaching for the employees.
MBNA's business philosophy maintains that people who are supported in their workplace, feel that their voices are heard in management decision-making, receive encouragement and job-related skills training, and are connected to tools and resources that support their work, are people who will stay in their jobs the longest. Some Support Services representatives are selected to participate in a Career Development Program, which offers employees in certain grade levels developmental education and rotations through MBNA's key business areas.
The employees of MBNA Support Services have a rolling retention rate of approximately 96 percent on an annual basis. Approximately 1.4 percent are promoted annually. The average tenure of these employees is 8 years, with 9.5 years for Support Services managers.
MBNA also reaches out to youth with disabilities, transitioning them into employment positions through the assistance of many school district transition coordinators. Students learn part-time during their last two years of school, gaining key skills and knowledge in order to begin working full-time for the company upon graduation.
Secretary Chao (left) presents a New Freedom Initiative Award to Pamela Passman (center), Deputy General Counsel, Microsoft Corporation, as former Assistant Secretary of Labor Roy Grizzard (right) looks on. (DOL Photo/Shawn Moore).
Microsoft Corporation, a business that boasts of more than 50,000 employees worldwide, offers unique employment opportunities for job seekers with disabilities. Employees with disabilities contribute to the diversified work force by assisting in developing and improving accessibility software, while offering new technologies to accommodate current employees.
Microsoft's commitment to employment of people with disabilities is carried out through policies and programs administered or carried out by its Accessible Technology Group and its Human Resources/Diversity Group. Microsoft actively recruits people with disabilities at job fairs and at traditional colleges for persons with disabilities, including Gallaudet and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. Microsoft is an active member of Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities (COSD) and hosted the organization's annual meeting in 2003. The company also partnered with the National Business and Disability Council to create the Able to Work Consortium and is an active member of the Washington State Business Leadership Network.
Microsoft offers students with disabilities the opportunity to grow and develop their workforce skills through affiliation with National Disability Mentoring Day and sponsorship of summer internships for students interested in careers in technology.
The company's Accessible Technology Group has approximately 40 people working full-time on product accessibility. This division and Microsoft Press published a book titled Accessible Technology in Today's Business: Case Studies for Success. The book uses actual case studies from leading companies and government organizations to show readers how accessible technology can help them retain their most valued employees, recruit the best minds, and attract new customers. In March 2003, the company unveiled the Microsoft Assistive Technology Vendor Program to expand support for developers and manufacturers that design, build and support assistive technology products. More than 70 leading assistive technology vendors have joined this program.
Microsoft relies on its employees with disabilities to provide valuable perspectives on how the company develops products and services, how it markets them and how it can improve customer satisfaction. The company has a comprehensive accommodations program, which conducts about 240 customized evaluations and solutions implementations per year. Among its employees is a blind software test engineer, who holds five patents for accessibility in software design; a deaf Encarta managing editor who is responsible for the product being close-captioned; and a Development Lead employee who spends much of his day writing software code using voice recognition software and a mouth-stick because he is a person with quadriplegia.
SunTrust Banks, Inc.
Secretary Chao (left) presents a New Freedom Initiative Award to James M. Wells III (center), Vice Chairman, SunTrust Banks, Inc., as former Assistant Secretary of Labor Roy Grizzard (right) looks on. (DOL Photo/Shawn Moore).
Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, SunTrust Banks, Inc. is one of the nation's largest commercial banking organizations, with operations throughout Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Tennessee, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
SunTrust Bank has developed a multi-faceted program that demonstrates a corporate commitment to people with disabilities. The program includes a Disability Resource Center to increase employees' access to assistive technology, innovative hiring practices, and improved retention and advancement strategies for people with disabilities. The Resource Center has oversight responsibility for a vast number of programs and resources, including a centralized accommodations budget, internship sponsorship program, mentoring day, and other activities specifically designed to raise awareness of the business case for hiring and retaining workers with disabilities.
SunTrust has also devoted a full-time position to establishing partnerships within the SunTrust impression, as well as led the effort to develop a national volunteer organization to educate employers about hiring and marketing their job opportunities to people with disabilities. Evidence of corporate commitment is on the company's Accessing Community Talent (ACT) intranet site. ACT is designed to encourage managers to attract non-traditional qualified applicants who are not typically recruited by corporate human resource departments.
The bank's active leadership of Business Leadership Networks in Virginia, Florida, Tennessee, Maryland and the District of Columbia has resulted in the successful employment and retention of more than 160 individuals with disabilities. Further, SunTrust took an active role in the creation of the US Business Leadership Network (USBLN), and provided one of its senior executives to serve as Chairperson to guide the USBLN to non-profit status, establish by-laws and chapter guidelines, and develop an accessible website.
In Virginia, SunTrust has taken the lead in developing an Employer Tool Kit for work incentives specific to the Medicaid Buy-in. This web-based tool helps to educate employers on how people with disabilities can increase their employment without losing valuable Medicaid benefits. This tool is available not only to SunTrust managers, but also to USBLN members. The bank has also initiated the Assistive Technology Load Fund Authority in Virginia, which leverages state dollars with bank funds to provide favorable loan terms and finance rates for people with disabilities, as well as for employers who hire and advance people with disabilities.
A national sponsor of National Disability Mentoring Day, the banks hosted 183 youth with disabilities in 2003, several of whom ultimately became bank employees. In addition, SunTrust has volunteered to operate a pilot program expanding ODEP's Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) into the private sector.
Michael John Maslowski
Linebacker, Kansas City Chiefs
Overland Park, Kansas
Secretary Chao (left) presents a New Freedom Initiative Award to Michael John Maslowski (center) of the Kansas City Chiefs as former Assistant Secretary of Labor Roy Grizzard (right) looks on. (DOL Photo/Shawn Moore).
In 2000, Michael John Maslowski became a member of the Board of Directors of the Greater Kansas City Foundation for Citizens with Disabilities. His commitment to making a difference in the disability arena was personal: As the uncle of a young man with a disability, Mr. Maslowski believed that his nephew, along with all young people with disabilities, should have the opportunity to work and live independently in the community.
At the time he joined the Board, Mr. Maslowski was on the Special Teams unit of the Kansas City Chiefs. Playing off his position on the team, he agreed to be featured on a billboard advertisement with the message, "Special Needs have Special Teams." The eye-catching billboard encouraged hiring people with disabilities, along with a contact number for further information
Soon after joining the Board, Mr. Maslowski became active in the Foundation's Community Employment Program. Through this program he has worked with nearly 600 high school juniors and seniors with disabilities, providing them with encouragement, career assessments, and support that led them to continue their education or obtain employment after graduation. During the past 12 months, up to 71 students were assisted in getting jobs or continuing their education.
Mr. Maslowski has also been instrumental, both personally and financially, in developing a "Job Club" for students with disabilities. With an emphasis on conducting an effective job search, this program is designed to help students with disabilities gain confidence in their search and to overcome the stigma that prevents some employers from hiring people with disabilities.
During football season, Mr. Maslowski hosts and speaks bi-weekly at "Luncheons with the Chiefs." The purpose of these luncheons is to bring in potential employers (50-75 employers per luncheon) to hire students participating in the Community Employment Program. Not only have these luncheons resulted in jobs for the students, but they have also extended the network of opportunity. For example, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce asked Mr. Maslowski to work with it to develop job opportunities for people with disabilities in the Latino community.
Most recently, Mr. Maslowski was instrumental in developing a video on "Transition — School to Work." In the video, he stresses the value of students completing educational goals and becoming part of the workforce, following graduation. This video also demonstrates to employers the benefits of hiring people with disabilities and helps parents to better understand the transition process.