In recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness month, West Virginia University reaffirms and strengthens its commitment to employ persons with disabilities. Held each October, the event is a national campaign that raises awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities.
While physical barriers to disability employment opportunity need to be addressed, WVU Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion David M. Fryson said the biggest barriers are the antiquated ideas many people hold concerning disabilities.
Even mentioning physical barriers holds an underlying fallacy: that most disabilities are physical and impair mobility. In fact, most people with disabilities in the workplace have unseen, or “hidden disabilities.”
“We need to realize that people have many different types of disabilities, and more importantly, that those same people possess a wide range of abilities and talents which allow them to make meaningful contributions in the work place and to society at large,” Fryson said.
Another myth is that hiring supervisors have to “go it alone” if they want to employ someone with a disability, Fryson said. On the contrary, Fryson said WVU is well situated to support these employment efforts, with two centers that serve as resources to employers around the country, the Job Accommodation Network and the Center for Excellence in Disabilities.
“JAN, a service of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy based at WVU, is the leading source of free, expert and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues,” Job Accomodation Network co-directors Anne Hirsh and Lou Orslene said. “Working toward practical solutions that benefit both employer and employee, JAN helps people with disabilities enhance their employability, and shows employers how to capitalize on the value and talent that people with disabilities add to the workplace.”
At WVU the discussion of reasonable accommodation may be initiated by a request from a newly hired employee. In such cases, the Human Resources Employment office can advise the hiring supervisor about initial steps in the process. Also, WVU’s Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator Jill Hess is available to work on these situations.
“Accommodations not only ensure equal participation in the workplace, but can allow employees to demonstrate their many strengths by removing possible barriers to success,” Hess said. “WVU is available to assist employees through every step of the accommodation process—through self-disclosure to the full provision of accommodations.”
In other cases, an accommodation may be requested by an existing employee whose status has changed. With an aging workforce, it should be expected that these kind of situations will develop from time to time and the University should be ready to respond appropriately, Fryson said.
WVU’s commitment to employing people with disabilities is further demonstrated by the Work Opportunities Job Fair at the University this spring, he said. All job seekers are welcome to attend the April 21 event at the Erickson Alumni Center but disability employment will be emphasized. A special feature of the job fair will be pre-event training specifically for employers, provided by a representative from the Job Accommodation Network.
This training will provide an opportunity for employers to learn about disability awareness and to be cognizant of proper etiquette when communicating with potential job seekers. Another valuable feature of the job fair will be a resource room that will provide access to state-of-the-art assistive technology, which can be beneficial to the job seeker as well as the employer.
“West Virginia University Employment Services recognizes the value of a diverse and inclusive workforce,” said Charlotte Swiger, WVU senior employment specialist and coordinator of the Work Opportunities Job Fair. “Our goal is to create an environment where all job seekers can be confident that their unique experience and education will be given full consideration when seeking employment at the University.”
WVU will soon survey its workforce. Employees will be invited to self-identify as a person with a disability. This information will be held in the strictest confidence.
Identifying as a person with a disability through this process is not the same as requesting an accommodation. That is a separate process. For more information on accessibility services and equal opportunity at WVU, visit http://diversity.wvu.edu/
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