February 06, 2007

'Employing Graduates with Disabilities' Conference will benefit job seekers, employers

by Sun Min

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Employers can learn about the advantages of hiring people with disabilities at the "Employing Graduates with Disabilities" conference at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, set for Friday, Feb. 16, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the SIUC Student Health Center Auditorium.

The conference is free and open to the public but registration is required. Contact Christina Rich at 618/453-4078 or clrich@siu.edu for more information.

SIUC's Office of Disability Support Services and the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute are sponsoring the event, which will explore the barriers and incentives for employers to hire college graduates with special needs.

Nearly 80 percent of unemployed people with disabilities would like to find work but only two out of five college-educated disabled people are employed. "We cannot accept the low rate of employment for people who have demonstrated the determination, courage and ability to overcome significant challenges. We must do better, and finding ways to engage the business community is one of the keys," said Mike Lawrence, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

The half-day workshop will introduce employers and job seekers to employment models initiated in Chicago, which enable companies to effectively incorporate the underutilized labor force. Karen McCulloh, executive director of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce's "disabilityworks" initiative, will share how the program increases employment opportunities for people with disabilities by breaking down barriers that keep them from finding jobs. Her co-presenter is Anne Tiesenga, managing director of the Chicagoland Business Leadership Network. They work directly with employers to meet labor needs using people with disabilities who have the skills, talent and abilities to become outstanding employees.

Right now there are "effective and productive collaborations between downstate businesses, human service agencies and individuals who have disabilities and who are also credentialed and ready to work. We are really excited about trying to make a difference in an area widely perceived to be the most critical aspect of the true inclusion of persons with disabilities into mainstream citizenry," said Kathleen Plesko, director of SIUC's Office of Disability Support Services.

Conference speakers will also discuss new technologies and other advancements that allow disabled persons to become invaluable employees.

The schedule follows:

• 9 a.m. – Opening remarks by Kathleen Plesko, Mike Lawrence and SIUC interim Chancellor John M. Dunn.

• 9:30 a.m. – "What People with Disabilities Have to Offer and Untapped Workforce Issues," Karen McCulloh, executive director of "disabilityworks," Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

• 10:30 a.m. – Break

• 10:45 a.m. – "Understanding Incentives and Eliminating Barriers to Hiring People with Disabilities," Edna Jeffries, Illinois Department of Employment Security, and Jo Gulley Ancell, supervisor of the Division of Rehabilitation Service, Illinois Department of Human Services.

• 11:45 a.m. – Lunch provided.

• 12:30 p.m. – Interactive presentation, "Advancements in Technology and Workplace Accommodations," Michael Whitney, assistant program director of SIUC's Office of Disability Support Services.

• 1:30 p.m. – Closing remarks by Plesko.