Cincinnati Chamber selected for pilot program on small business inclusion

The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber was recently selected to participate in a pilot program designed to increase workplace inclusion in small businesses for people with disabilities. 

"Getting Down to Business: A Pilot to Strengthen Small Businesses Through Disability Inclusion" is a one-year program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy. Cincinnati was one of three cities selected to participate in the pilot.

The program allows the Cincinnati Chamber to implement strategies to help businesses create more inclusive workplaces and help businesses recruit and retain qualified people who live with disabilities. While the program won't directly lead to employment, the Chamber hopes to institute an internship or shadowing arrangement to connect businesses with potential employees. The pilot will end in October, which is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. 

Approximately 68 percent of working age people with disabilities were unemployed, according to the Department of Labor in 2015.

"One of the things we know about people with disabilities is that many of them are unemployed," says Mary Stagaman, the Chamber's senior inclusion advisor. "What's not true is that most of them are unemployable. We see people with disabilities as a large, untapped resource."

A group from Cincinnati presented testimony to U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot in Washington, D.C. at a congressional hearing to discuss initiatives to increase workplace inclusion for people with disabilities. 

Among that group was Susan Brownknight, executive director of Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled, and small business owner Terri Hogan, who also served on the pilot committee's advisory board.

"One of the biggest obstacles to independence for people living with disabilities is equal opportunity," Brownknight says. "The barriers they face as it relates to getting a job are massive. At the same time, employers are looking to diversify their workforce, to add and attract new talent, and there's this pool of potential candidates that have a lot to contribute to their workplaces. They happen to be people with disabilities whose unemployment rates are unacceptably high."

But Brownknight thinks this pilot program is a chance for Cincinnati to show its true colors.

"Cincinnati is emerging as a national leader in full community inclusion as it related to people with disabilities," she says. "This city embraces people of all abilities. I think that is something this city should be very proud of. The Chamber being selected as one of three sites in the nation is a reflection upon that."

Hogan believes in the positive effects of hiring people with disabilities.

"It's not just the right thing to do, but it’s the smart thing to do," she says. "The bottom line is they make really great employees."
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