As part of celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month, I’m excited to introduce Sharisse O’Banion, who joined the Easterseals Disability Staffing Network (EDSN) in August as the Program Director and give her a chance to share more about her passion for ensuring that individuals with disabilities and special needs secure and retain meaningful employment.
She is an inspirational leader with more than 14 years of experience with training, assessment, management and maximizing the career readiness of people with intellectual or developmental disabilities and military service members. She is an exceptional collaborator, who works with federal and state agencies and organizations within the private and public sectors, including the Social Security Administration’s Ticket to Work Program, Veterans Benefits Administration, District of Columbia Department of Disability Administration, Rehabilitation Services Administration, Maryland Department of Disabilities, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Labor, Department of Defense, and the Small Business Administration.
All of us at Easterseals are so excited to have her as part of the team, and I’m confident that when you read her perspectives below you’ll see why. Welcome aboard, Sharisse!
As someone who has worked in the field of disability employment for more than decade, I am excited to see the amazing strides that have been made in this field over the years. The community living with disability and special needs is a valuable resource for employers that is a win-win for both corporations and people with disabilities. So often, when I am speaking with corporate partners, I have to remind them of all the businesses benefits they get from hiring within the disability community. Benefits such as higher retention rates, federal tax cuts and dependability, which adds value to the workforce. And for those working, they just love it! They enjoy being around peers, meeting new people without disabilities and being included. To them, working is everything.
I would love to take a moment to share a story of how we helped one of our EDSN candidates named David, who is hard of hearing. He also has a family that he needs to help support, so working is a necessity for him. David is extremely adept at financial management and was previously a finance director for a nonprofit. Yet, he often found himself facing a lot of underemployment issues and was having difficulty finding employers who would accommodate his special needs, especially for full-time positions. During interviews, he usually had to rely on a videophone interpreter, which he felt never effectively captured his personality and passion to work for the potential employer.
Eventually, David connected with EDSN and we immediately began working with him on employment readiness. We updated his resume and coached him on how to prepare for a behavioral interview. He also participated in one of our mock interview workshops and attended a few of our hiring events where we would refer him. By the end of the summer, he had landed a full-time position with the Office of Personnel Management.
We recently received this email from David, “I have been offered a federal position as a financial management specialist at an agency in D.C. I am really excited about this opportunity. The interview workshop was great and I think what I learned actually helped me in my interview for this position. Thank you!”
David is an example of how we are currently assisting more than 438 talented candidates to secure meaningful employment with organizations that recognize the benefits of hiring people with disabilities. So far, more than 120 have been placed and this is what drew me to EDSN. In all the years I have worked in this field, EDSN is the first I’ve encountered that is a staffing agency for talent with disabilities and special needs.
Having a staffing agency for eligible individuals with disabilities who can work is an extremely forward-thinking idea. With EDSN, we are moving beyond promoting individual’s skillset to potential employers. We are now promoting a range of skills, qualifications and interests from a large pool of candidates. With EDSN, we can also add another level of trust-building with organizations by offering temp-to-hire candidates, so they can give more individuals a try before committing.
Working with EDSN really reaffirms for me how far we have come with disability employment, especially over the last five years. Since 2014, we have literally gone from sheltered workshops and separate enclaves to having buildings without walls, which would allow for more integration and inclusion of the community in the workplace.
However, as much progress as we have made, there is still much more that needs to be done. The majority of employers still have a lot of misconceptions about what an employee with a disability looks like. Many companies still don’t know that lots of candidates with disabilities have degrees—anywhere from a BA to an MBA to a PhD. Also, not everybody’s disability started out developmentally.
Some people became disabled due to life circumstances, like a car accident that might have led to a traumatic brain injury. Whatever the case may be, the most important thing is people with disabilities still have a lot to contribute to society.
My goal with EDSN is build it up to be a solid program that can not only secure meaningful placements for people with disabilities on a larger scale, but that it can become a model to be emulated on a national scale. With that, we still have a great deal of work ahead of us and I look forward to the opportunities and challenges that may come in making it happen.
For more information on the EDSN program for potential employer partners, talent, or the Ticket to Work Program, please go to EDSN.ESEAL.ORG.