Rejuvenating Disability Inclusion at WWDS 2021

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At SDI, a celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) isn’t complete without the Workforce, Workplace Disability Summit (WWDS), an education and networking event for human resources professionals, career development specialists and jobseekers with disabilities. This year’s summit comprised a series of weekly webinars facilitated by many of the most prominent voices in diversity, equity and inclusion.

The eighth annual summit kicked off October 6 with a panel discussion titled, “Diversity Includes Disability: Infusing Disability Equity into your DEI Strategy.” The conversation was led by Vincent Flewellen, Chief Diversity Officer at Webster University; Dawn Higgins, Senior Manager of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Nestle Purina; and Adewale Soluade, SDI Board Member and Senior Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Centene.

October 13 featured a presentation by Jason Hartsfield, Disability Inclusion Lead Consultant at SDI. The theme was “Strengthening Understanding: Training for Disability Allyship in your Workplace.” Jason emphasized the importance of creating safe, dialogue-driven spaces where employees are free to learn and grow.

“For me, it was really important that our audience came away understanding that change is a process that people have to choose to engage in. We are all emotionally invested in our worldviews, and being told we’re doing things wrong can put us on the defensive,” Jason explained. “Effective inclusion workshops engage the audience where they are at, assume no ill-will, ask questions in a non-judgmental way and provide new information so people can draw their own conclusions.”

“Building an Accessible Pipeline for Disabled Talent” served as the primary focus of the October 20 webinar. Panelists included Jaki Jefferson, SDI Board Member and Systems Leader for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at SSM Health; Kevin Andert, Executive Director of Career and Technical Education at the Special School District of St. Louis County; and Pamela Christopher, Employment Specialist at National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

Panelists discussed the benefits of Disability Inclusion in the workplace, different strategies for connecting with disabled jobseekers, and advice on how to develop a talent pipeline that is fully inclusive but also tailored to the exact needs of the company. According to Jaki, employers as well as disabled jobseekers should come away from conversations like these with a renewed sense of optimism and direction.

“I hope that companies use these types of educational opportunities to rejuvenate their D&I efforts and get their recruiting processes aligned,” Jaki expressed. “I also hope people with disabilities recognize that they are talented individuals and that employers are not just doing them a favor by hiring them”

WWDS concluded October 27 with “The Pandemic and Accommodations,” a workshop led by Andrew Metcalf, Partner at Ogletree Deakins; and Julie Brinkhoff, Executive Director at Great Plains ADA Center. Andrew and Julie guided the audience through the best practices for accommodations, offered tips on maintaining an inclusive culture in remote work environments, and advice on ensuring a smooth return to in-person work.

Thanks to the generosity of our NDEAM sponsors, the entire series of WWDS 2021 workshops was made available to the public free of charge. A regular participant in past WWDS events, Jaki thoroughly enjoyed the summit’s new format.

“I’ve attended three of these summits since I first encountered Starkloff, and all three have been valuable in a multitude of ways,” Jaki concluded. “It’s not a one-time deal. We have to keep evolving, keep building those relationships in the community, and these workshops are a vital part of that.”

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