WWDS shapes the future of disability hiring

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Image of five people in business attire chatting around a table.

SDI’s third annual Workforce, Workplace Disability Summit (WWDS) kicked off a flurry of special events and promotions in support of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The professional development conference brought HR specialists and disability employment experts together on October 1 at the Mercy Virtual Care Center in Chesterfield for a day of learning, networking and preparing to knock down some of the most persistent barriers to meaningful employment.

Colleen Starkloff, Founder of SDI, says that companies are readily enlisting the expertise of the Workforce, Workplace Disability Advisor. “Training events like the WWDS are considered very important opportunities by employers who are now, finally, looking to increase their disability hiring,” she reports. “Our evaluations show that attendees are indeed feeling more aware, comfortable and eager to learn more each year about how to hire, welcome, retain and promote employees with disabilities.”

After opening remarks from Adult Career Services Coordinator Jason Hartsfield and Colleen, the morning commenced with a session of “Meet the Professionals.” Nine working professionals, each with a different type of disability, rotated from one table to the next, sharing their personal experiences and fielding questions from summit participants.

Colleen says the “Meet the Professionals” segments offer a rare glimpse into the minds of people with disabilities as they strive, struggle and ultimately achieve meaningful employment.

“Attendees always appreciate this aspect of our trainings because they often do not have an opportunity to engage with someone who has a significant disability who is a working professional,” Colleen explains. “They are afforded an invaluable opportunity to ask questions and learn from personal experience about what disabled professionals encounter during their job searches and in the workplace.”

A pair of breakout sessions followed, each featuring three different guest speakers. Presenters covered topics such as developing a disability recruitment pipeline, management and supervision of an employee with a disability, eliminating unconscious bias, assistive technology solutions and using service animals as reasonable accommodations.

Lisa Roberts, Events Coordinator at SDI, worked tirelessly in the months leading up to WWDS to ensure an informative and well-organized conference procured. She made it a priority to find breakout speakers who would leave a lasting impression on the audience.

“It was important to me that our presenters spoke on subjects our guests would find interesting and encourage them to research subject matters further after they left,” Lisa recalls. “I couldn’t be more pleased with how everything turned out.”

After WWDS participants enjoyed lunch and checked out the various vender exhibits, the conference culminated with the keynote address. Lori Golden, Abilities Strategy Leader at Ernst and Young, spoke passionately about the importance of building a culture of inclusion in the workplace. She cited examples of the progress Ernst and Young has made in terms of diversity and inclusion over a career that’s spanned more than 20 years.

Ms. Golden stressed the importance of reinforcing an inclusive culture by identifying individual success stories within an organization and spotlighting them regularly, and investing in a pipeline of talent—showing candidates what true diversity and inclusion looks like.

Lori Becker, Chief Operating Officer and Director of Communications and Development at SDI, knows that events like WWDS shape the future of disability hiring, firmly establishing Starkloff as the movement’s thought leader in St. Louis.

“I am so proud that we were able to once again deliver high-quality disability learning to the St. Louis business community,” Lori says. “The cumulative expertise of the breakout presenters and our keynote speaker, Lori Golden, made this conference an extremely valuable learning experience for those who are interested in making their workplaces more disability-welcoming.”

A conference like the Workforce, Workplace Disability Summit isn’t possible without the collaboration and support of countless individuals. We would like to thank our hosts at the Mercy Virtual Care Center, Centene, our presenting partner and our numerous event sponsors for their generous contributions.

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