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Starkloff Disability Institute Celebrates National Disability Employment Awareness Month with “Next Big Step”

OCTOBER 8, 2014, St. Louis, Missouri…Starkloff Disability Institute (SDI) today announced its participation in National Disability Employment Awareness Month, an annual awareness campaign that occurs throughout October.

SDI Co-Director Colleen Starkloff said, “National Disability Employment Awareness Month is designed to educate about disability employment issues and celebrate the many contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. At SDI, it also is a time to celebrate our ‘Next Big Step’ program, which helps people with disabilities prepare for gaining rewarding professional jobs, and connects employers with qualified people with disabilities who are ready to work.”

National Disability Employment Awareness Month originated in 1945 when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

“Expect. Employ. Empower” is this year’s theme for National Disability Employment Awareness Month. In this context, SDI’s “The Next Big Step” program is a crucially important initiative. Here’s why:

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as reported in The Wall Street Journal, “79.2% of working age people with functional disabilities is out of the labor force entirely.” Research shows that jobs remain inaccessible for people with disabilities due to attitudinal barriers, not the disabled person’s ability to perform essential job functions.

This means we live in a nation in which 2/3 of the working age population is employed, but only 1/3 of working age people with disabilities have jobs. SDI has become a national innovator in working to rectify this disparity.

SDI’s flagship program “The Next Big Step” facilitates the successful employment of people with disabilities in competitive mainstream jobs. A two-fold approach is necessary for success. First, jobseekers with disabilities receive intensive preparation to gain confidence and skills to compete in the job market. Secondly, SDI helps employers understand the unwitting barriers to employment that may exist in their organizations.  To this end, SDI consults with human resources personnel and hiring managers on best practices in interviewing, hiring, retaining, and welcoming people with disabilities into the workforce. This training fosters understanding and appreciation for the asset that people with disabilities represent in the workplace. In its third year, the program has shown a success rate with more 85% of candidates finding and keeping jobs of their choice.

SDI Co-Director David Newburger, who also serves as Commissioner on the Disabled for the City of St. Louis, said, “A strong workforce is one that includes the skills and talents of all individuals, including individuals with disabilities. We are proud that this initiative is part of our mission, and encourage all Americans to celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month.”

For more information, email lbecker@starkloff.org

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The Starkloff Disability Institute has as its mission to create a world that welcomes all people with disabilities by empowering them, by influencing the non-disabled, by serving as liaison between the two groups, and by working toward a goal of economic independence through employment.

Max and Colleen Starkloff

Max and Colleen Starkloff co-founded Paraquad, Inc. one of the first ten federally funded independent living centers in the U.S. After 35 successful years at Paraquad Max and Colleen, along with David Newburger, co-founded the Starkloff Disability Institute to take THE NEXT BIG STEP - changing attitudes for a more inclusive society.