Meet the 2018 Employment Leadership Award winners

Recognizing businesses that lead the way to provide opportunities for persons with disabilities

For those who experience disabilities, securing meaningful employment is sometimes very challenging, which underscores the importance of the Employment Leadership Awards (ELAs).

Created 10 years ago by the NH Council on Developmental Disabilities and NH Vocational Rehabilitation, the ELAs recognize businesses and industries throughout New Hampshire that lead the way in providing integrated work opportunities for such persons.

For Isadora Rodriguez-Legendre, executive director of the NH Council on Developmental Disabilities, the significance of the award — as well as the need it addresses — cannot be overstated.

“This award is about celebrating those businesses and industries that have embraced diversity and incorporated inclusive practices in the hiring of their labor force,” she said. “It is a way to identify champions in providing meaningful integrated employment opportunities to NH citizens with disabilities.”

She said the hope behind the award is to further incentivize continued improvement of practices around this effort. By recognizing businesses and industries with an award, she said awareness is raised about “this underutilized workforce.”

“It encourages other businesses to follow in their footsteps,” she said. “It also helps identify these innovative businesses as a resource for other companies that may be interested in incorporating more inclusive hiring practices. They can serve as role models and mentors to businesses that may have questions about how to get started.”

A business that has received an ELA means it is making a substantive effort toward creating a culture more inclusive of people with disabilities, according to Rodriguez-Legendre.

“It means that the overall attitude and practices of the work-site and employees are accepting and supportive of integrated employment environments that recognize the strength in diversity,” she said. “These businesses have learned that employing individuals of different abilities provides added value to their teams’ cohesion and productivity.”

Nominations can come from a variety of sources, but she said they are mainly received from employment services providers who have successfully placed individuals with disabilities in opportunities.

“Business can self-nominate and would also be able to nominate other businesses,” she said.

The process required to evaluate businesses is rigorous, according to Rodriguez-Legendre, who said the ELA committee is made up of representatives from various agencies working with individuals with disabilities. She described individuals on the committee as experts at identifying employment opportunities that match the interests and abilities of people with disabilities.

Noting the committee considers a large number of nominees for an ELA award, she said they collectively vet businesses and industries that not only provide opportunities for meaningful employment, but provide ongoing supports.

“The committee members assign a team, usually of two members of the committee, to go out to the particular employer and conduct an on-site interview and evaluation of the business,” she said.

Information gathered is then shared with the full committee. She said there are three categories into which a business is placed:

1.  Still needs to do some work

2. Doing a good job, but nothing extraordinary

3. The company is going above and beyond in incorporating inclusive practice, including creating a welcoming culture for individuals of all abilities and backgrounds.

She said the majority of businesses that fall into this last category are those that employ more than one individual with a disability and have employed people with disabilities at their company for some time.

“They have also incorporated the necessary supports for them to be successful at work,” she said. “People working there have all of the same opportunities for training, pay increases, advancement opportunities, and social connections at work.”

Committee members then vote on the best candidates and select the top five as the winners of the ELAs.

In commenting on the importance of ELAs to the mission of the NH Council on Developmental Disabilities, Rodriguez-Legendre said it could not be emphasized enough.

“Supporting businesses that are creating opportunities for people with disabilities to have integrated and competitive employment prospects is an important part of our mission,” she said. “We are fortunate to have many outstanding employers in our state who are leading the way in hiring, promoting, and fully integrating people with disabilities in their workforce.”

The ELA’s also help to highlight October as National Disability Employment Awareness month.

“It is the perfect opportunity to recognize the work that this year’s Employment Leadership Awards recipients are doing in promoting inclusive practices,” she said.

Congratulations to this year’s honorees, Worthen Industries, Comfort Inn, Dunkin Donuts (Lafayette Road, Portsmouth), Home Depot (Merrimack) and Omni Mount Washington. The 10th annual Employment Leadership Awards were scheduled to be given out in October 2018.

The Merrimack Home Depot Store Manager Renee Hough and Hiring Manager Jill Connolly hired two young men with varying disabilities and capabilities. The two men interviewed independently with Home Depot management and were hired initially in a seasonal capacity to assist in maintaining the garden center. After the season was over both were asked to stay on board. Since the beginning they have been invited to staff appreciation breakfasts, holiday activities, day-to-day staff wellness activities, and recognized by staff for a job well done.

The management of Omni Mount Washington provides an equal opportunity for all individuals, with and without disabilities. They pride themselves in ensuring all applicants are treated with the same level of respect and expectations. When an applicant pursues a position within the resort, the hiring department allows the individual to express his or her work interests and they capitalize on what makes each person successful. Omni Mount Washington has employed over 15 individuals with disabilities and that number continues to grow.

David Worthen, president and CEO of Worthen Industries, invited the PLUS Company Leadership Team to present to all Worthen staff on how to work with people with disabilities and train their staff to act as Natural Supports. Approximately 40 employees from the production floor and various departments attended the training. In April 2017, Worthen began phasing PLUS clients into various departments. Worthen offered an exceptional learning environment for these individuals, pairing each client up with a natural support and proactively offering to make universal design changes and reasonable accommodations. This gave PLUS the ability to manage performance and give as much time as needed for clients to learn tasks.

The Dunkin Donuts on Lafayette Road in Portsmouth has adopted a policy of inclusion that encourages employees with disabilities to apply, compete, and secure gainful employment within their company. Store manager Mike Todd said hiring people with disabilities strengthens the backbone of the company. He has made accommodations for his staff with disabilities such as modified schedules or having job coaches on site. Todd said having a diverse workforce has made customers want to come to his restaurant; it brings happiness to the staff and its guests.

The Comfort Inn was recommended due to their ability to hire people with disabilities. General Manager Joyce McCabe has worked to help hire people who are deaf and from the New American community. She has hired four people successfully, one of whom is blind and deaf. The first person she hired has been promoted to full-time work, and is now a U.S. citizen, partly due to retaining her job. This year, they hired another person who is deaf and a refugee with no written language skills and extremely limited ASL skills.

Categories: Stepping Stones NH