october 22nd–23rd, 2013 | washington, d.c.

Innovative Research on Employer Practices:
Improving Employment for People with Disabilities

A state of the science conference from the Rehabilitation and Research Training Center on Employer Practices Related to Employment Outcomes among Individuals with Disabilities. This two-day event highlighted the research findings from the Employer Practices Rehabilitation Research and Training Center at Cornell University ILR School's Yang-Tan Institute. It was a great success! Check back for reports and proceedings of the conference.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Bio Sketches

Jennifer Sheehy Photo

Jennifer Sheehy is the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of Disability Employment Policy, US Department of Labor. Prior to her current position, Jennifer spent ten years at the US Department of Education in many roles, including Director of Policy and Planning in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), acting Director of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), acting Deputy Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration and Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of OSERS. Jennifer came to the Department of Education from the Presidential Task Force on Employment of Adults with Disabilities where she was Senior Policy Advisor and served a detail as Associate Director in the White House Domestic Policy Council. Before she joined the task force staff, Jennifer was Vice President of the National Organization on Disability and Director of its CEO Council. Jennifer earned a BA from Cornell University and graduated with honors from Georgetown University, where she received her MBA. While in graduate school, she worked in marketing research with Anheuser-Busch Companies in St. Louis. Before graduate school, Jennifer also worked in marketing and management for Sheraton and Marriott. Jennifer has received many civic and achievement awards and lives in Washington, DC, with her husband.

Andy Imparato Photo

Andy Imparato began work on September 30, 2013 as the Executive Director of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD). AUCD, located in Silver Spring, MD, promotes and supports a national network of interdisciplinary centers on disabilities. The members of AUCD represent every U.S. state and territory. AUCD and its members work to advance policy and practice through research, education, leadership, and services for and with individuals with developmental and other disabilities, their families, and communities. From 2010 until September of 2013, Imparato served as Senior Counsel and Disability Policy Director for the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor and Pensions, chaired by Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa. In this role he was Chairman Harkin's principle adviser on disability issues. During those two and a half years, Imparato was the lead staffer for the Chairman's effort to reauthorize the Rehabilitation Act as part of the Workforce Investment Act; staffed numerous hearings and events focused on growing the disability labor force working in integrated, competitive employment; supported the Chairman's efforts to improve accessibility of taxicabs, movie theaters, airplanes and electronic and information technology; and focused attention on improving transition outcomes for the generation of young people with disabilities who have come of age since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Imparato, whose perspective is informed by his own experience with bipolar disorder, has more than two decades of experience in disability policy and advocacy. His essay on the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings relating to disability rights appears in The Rehnquist Court: Judicial Activism on the Right (H. Schwartz, ed., Hill and Wang, 2002). He co-authored an article in 2003 for the Stanford Law & Policy Review that helped make the case for the ADA Amendments Act, "Redefining 'Disability' Discrimination: A Proposal to Restore Civil Rights Protections for All Workers" (14 Stan L & Pol Rev 2, with Claudia Center, 2003). While at AAPD, Imparato was an advisor on corporate social responsibility, consumer, disability market, equal employment opportunity and accessibility issues for Verizon, Time Warner, AT&T, Microsoft, IBM, SAP, Wal-Mart, and other leading businesses. Imparato graduated with distinction from Stanford Law School and is a summa cum laude graduate of Yale College.

Diana Culberson's Photo

Diana Culberson is the Vice President, Equal Employment Opportunity, Diversity and Inclusion (EEODI) for the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (Exchange) headquartered in Dallas, Texas. In this capacity, she serves as head of the Exchange EEODI practices and programs to include EEO compliance, affirmative employment, barrier analysis, special emphasis programs, EEODI training, supplier diversity, and as the principal advisor to the Director/CEO and Deputy Director of the Exchange. The Exchange is the 47th largest retail organization in the U.S. with annual revenue of $10B, employing more than 42,000 civilian and military personnel. The Exchange operates department and convenience stores, gas stations, restaurants, theaters, vending and other businesses on military installations in all 50 states, five U.S. territories and in more than 30 countries. Ms. Culberson was born in Heidelberg, Germany and came to the Exchange in 1981. Prior to assuming her current role, she held various leadership positions in the organization to include: Training Instructor, Human Resources Manager, Leadership Operations Manager (Human Resources Directorate, HR-U), Senior Career Manager (Human Resources Directorate, HR-C), Chief of the Labor and Policy Division (Human Resource Directorate, HR-P), and Chief of HR Field Support (Human Resources Directorate, HR-S). Ms. Culberson earned a Master of Science degree in Human Relations from the University of Oklahoma and a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Management from Warner Southern College. She is also certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR).

Nancy Donaldson's Photo

Nancy Donaldson directs the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Washington, D.C. serving as a liaison to the United States government, employers' and workers' organizations, and multilateral and international finance institutions. Ms. Donaldson was appointed Director in January 2010. She has advised governments, non-profits, labor unions and corporations on government and public affairs for over 25 years. Earlier in her career, Nancy was a Vice President at Dutko Global Advisors representing corporations, governments and NGOs. She also worked for AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern as Director of Legislation at SEIU. Ms. Donaldson directed the Washington office for Women's Action for a New Direction (WAND) and was a lawyer in private practice. Ms. Donaldson has served on many NGO Boards including Women in International Security (WIIS), Coalition on Human Needs, Center for Policy Alternatives and most recently World Neighbors, Peace PAC and the Holdeen India Fund. Born in Lubbock, Texas, Ms. Donaldson holds a B.A. in communications from Baldwin Wallace College and a J.D. from Emory University Law School.

Conference Remarks

Questions and Answers

Question, Participant:

I have a question for the panel, well, actually a comment for the panel. Taking this now to the next step, if there are lessons to be learned from the disabled veteran community, and I say this as Jennifer and Andy know, I entered the disability community through a friend who was injured, spinal cord injured, as a civilian and so was very familiar with all the barriers to everything as a civilian.

And then when I married a veteran, I entered the veteran community. And it was a whole different mindset from disability pride. With veterans you have disabled American veterans, paralyzed veterans, those are terms of pride.

Also with compensation, the compensation that service connected veterans receive are never affected by whatever they make. They can go back to work without penalties.

They always have, as their safety net, the VA system, which I won't comment on, but the VA system. At least it's there for supplies, medications, care, et cetera, durable medical equipment, as well as their actual compensation and cash. And I found first, personally, that it made the whole difference, the difference between the civilian disability community, the struggling for every dime, and the veteran community, both in terms of pride and in terms of this huge safety net that's never, never threatened.

Do you think the next step would be taking a look at that and seeing if, because of these safety nets, is employment really much different for them?

Answer, Diana Culberson:

I can speak to that in terms of the Exchange perspective. And I really wanted to talk about this in my earlier comments. I think that this is the first armed conflict that we've had as a country, the most recent ones, that our veterans were truly welcomed home, and embraced and thanked for their service to our Nation, their service and their sacrifice to our Nation. Let me put both of those in there.

And I will say that we, the Exchange, and let me say that we're a little bit of a hybrid organization and the state branch of the Department of Defense with a civilian CEO and a two star general as the deputy director.

At any rate, I think that times have changed for our veterans. We have a robust recruiting and hiring program for the Wounded Warriors. We have an employee resource group for our Wounded Warriors.

We also have an employee resource group for the spouses of our veterans, so our Heroes Group, all addressing the issues and the challenges that veterans, especially wounded veterans, disabled veterans have in re-entering the workforce.

Having said that, you know, our challenge going forward is that our organization, and again, I don't think we're unlike any other in that the most angst that is there is the fear of the hidden disabilities. And PTSD tends to be a big one with a lot of returning veterans.

And so I really think organizationally it's about educating your workforce and educating your leadership, your management on those hidden disabilities and how to effectively work with someone, for example, who has PTSD or some other psychological impairment.

I'll stop there. Did that answer your question at all? Or did I divert and dance all around, which is my MO.

Comment, Andy Imparato:

Let me chime in. I guess three points in response to what you said.

First, to me most of the progress we've made in disability policy in the history of the United States, and I'm pretty sure this is true in other countries, has occurred because veterans demanded it.

When veterans came back from the Civil War we developed the field of medical rehabilitation. A lot of good things happened after World War II because veterans demanded them; the same is true after Vietnam. We've made progress because veterans demanded it.

So I don't think we'll make progress on this big issue of disability employment without veterans playing a leadership role. And I think one of the opportunities with this class of veterans is there's such a large number of veterans with non-apparent disabilities. They're not just post-traumatic stress disorder but brain injuries.

And to me, we don't know how to employ people with brain injuries in the United States. We don't. It's not something that we have figured out.

Obviously it's a diverse population. The accommodations are diverse. But I go back to what I said earlier. We really haven't figured out best practices for lots of sub-populations within the disability community.

So if we can empower veterans with brain injuries to be change agents in their workforces, out with their disabilities, experimenting with cutting edge accommodations that work, things like the workplace climate.

What's the atmosphere like for them? Do they feel welcomed at work? If they are having trouble remembering something is the workplace good at helping provide technology and other accommodations that can help them do their jobs?

And again, this is stuff that Walgreens is figuring out in their distribution centers. But I don't think we're doing this on a big scale yet as a country.

So I see a lot of opportunities for veterans to help change the culture in the workplace. And I appreciate your point about being proud of your service to the country and of being a disabled veteran.

Although I'm not sure the pride is as strong for veterans with non-apparent disabilities. And I think that's something that we can still work on.

And then the last thing is I don't think we, because Judy Heumann does this all the time, I don't think we should point to the service connected disabled veterans benefit system as the solution to how we do disability benefits.

And the reason I'm saying that is I went to a meeting at the White House about veterans' employment where most of the veteran groups around the table, this was in the Obama White House, said the disabled veterans' program is broken.

And one of the problems with the program is people are paid a lot of money to sit at home and do nothing. And in some parts of this country, they make more money than the people who have a full time job, a lot more money. So they have no incentive to work.

So I don't know that there's a simple solution there, because they earned it, they should get their money. But to the extent that we're removing an incentive to work by the amount of money that we're paying service connected disabled veterans, we're not doing them a favor.

They benefit when they're in part of the workplace. And I know, in the case of Larry, he worked so it wasn't an issue. But there are a lot of veterans who don't work. And to the extent that they're being paid not to work, I do think it has unintended consequences.

Comment, Jennifer Sheehy:

And so I just wanted to mention two things. From a policy perspective, certainly there are talks right now on SSDI reform. And good policy, a lot of proposals certainly want to make sure that people are supported in maybe not exactly the way, you know, veterans are supported, but they're supported so they can go to work. And it's an expectation that they're not penalized for going to work.

So in that context, I think some of the benefits are being looked at in terms of the SSDI policy reform. The other thing that we've been looking at from the messaging perspective is that the messaging generally is very asset based around veterans and the hiring.

When you talk about Wounded Warriors, people focus on warriors. And when you talk about employing people with disabilities it's not necessarily asset based. So we are looking at examples that we're using in messaging in hiring veterans in that context.

Question, Participant:

Are we heading down a road where we're looking at certification of companies and employer practices?

I mean, some of the presenters yesterday talked about how they were evaluating supply chain management. We see this also with some of the federal contractors, and the subcontractors and of course all the statistics being collected in the federal sector.

Could you comment on this? Are we headed a road where there'd be a certification that Company A, Company B, 10,000 companies have developed particular practices for employment of people with disabilities?

I've seen other certification programs. Some of them seem to be nothing more than PR jobs. So I'm wondering what your thoughts are on that kind of progression.

Answer, Andy Imparato:

I'll take a crack at it. I think we're definitely heading down a road where we're going to have more metrics. How we use those metrics is an open question.

I think it would be very dangerous to try to certify any company, like with the Good Housekeeping seal of approval, that this is a company that gets it right every time when they have an employee with a disability.

The population is too diverse. The ways that people can experience barriers and discrimination are too manifold for any company to pass that test.

But having said that, I don't think there's a problem with having metrics. I'm excited by what the U. S. Business Leadership Network and AAPD are working on in terms of having a disability equality index similar to what the Human Rights Campaign worked on in the context of the LGBT community.

It is helpful to be able to ask real questions that have real factual answers that you can use to evaluate how a company is doing.

But I do think it's very dangerous if any of those things that we're doing in metrics turn into a Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Because I think it would also very dangerous to say that, you know, AT&T gets a Good Housekeeping seal of approval on LGBT or race or anything else.

Yes, Susan Mazrui is here from AT&T. I'm not picking on AT&T, but it's a huge employer. I guarantee you somewhere in this country they are discriminating against every protected class because they're so big. And no employer can stop that.

Comment, Nancy Donaldson:

I'll just add we've been asked to come up, we work with the private sector a lot in trying to help figure out processes for all kinds of things, for avoiding forced labor, and child labor, and health and safety issues.

And so over time we've really come to conclude, like Andy's saying, and to really talk with our partners, our corporate partners, that finding some kind of seal of Good Housekeeping, it's just a snapshot in time at best, even with the best monitoring systems.

And so we're really encouraging our partners, companies become known for taking on innovative strategies for their workplace.

There's now over a trillion dollars in socially responsible investing. And so everyone's interested in metrics and measurement. But I do think the people who are in it long enough are realizing that just having that stamp isn't going to do it.

And also you're never going to be able to have a day where you know it's perfect in an imperfect world.

Comment, Jennifer Sheehy:

I would say one final thing though, is that companies are competitive. And if they want a certification on disability practice, it's a good thing internally.

Because it's maybe the first step in incorporating good practices which could lead to actual employment, internships and positive change. So in that sense it's great.

Comment, Andy Imparato:

And Susanne, I just wanted to take a point of privilege. I want to introduce Richard Davis who's here, who's a Fellow working at AUCD and is going to be looking for a job starting around June, wants to stay in the D. C. area. So he's a talented young man with a disability who has a lot to say on this topic. Thank you.