Many great organizations, municipalities and companies have committed to improving work and career opportunities for people with disabilities…and yet? The objective truth is that from a participation and employment perspective we haven’t even nudged the needle since statistics have been maintained on this challenge.
In fact, I just peeked at the dashboard of Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) within the Department of Labor and noted the lowest labor force participation figure that I can recall over the past 15 years– under 21%! Meaning that 4 out of 5 of us with a disability and of working age have chosen to take ourselves out of consideration for work. Disturbing to be sure. For those with disabilities in the market for work, we’re still experiencing greater than 2x the unemployment rate of our non-disabled peers at nearly 8%.
When does our society finally move from recognizing this deep disparity with far-reaching consequences to a steadfast call to action? What generation will demand that the complexities of this challenge are faced head-on to enable our economy to fully benefit from the great abilities, qualities and drive of our citizens with disabilities?
The Equal Access career development, networking and opportunity platform is one tool that is being piloted through 2019 to support working-age People with Disabilities (PwD). The goal is to support people across disability with an advanced, engaging, accessible and intuitive digital community to improve their engagement and kick-start their jobs, careers and networks. We first launched Wave I of the pilot in July, 2018.
This new tool is a collaboration between David Douglas, co-founder of Yolobe, an 1871 entrepreneurial start-up, and some of Chicago’s most respected and forward-thinking non-profits, including JJs List and Search Inc.
Yolobe was created in response to the need of many young, working-age candidates from the general population to strengthen their own networks among their peers while also having opportunities for career growth and development, interning opportunities, and jobs. Think of Yolobe as Facebook or LinkedIn and Equal Access as an interest group that any of us might join within that platform.
The backbone of Yolobe and now Equal Access is really the partnering organizations who help drive its success by presenting training, internships, events, jobs and career opportunities to the users who have that need. These can be non-profits, municipalities, companies, training organizations, school systems and other great entities serving the working-age community.
An essential strength of Equal Access is the ability for the user (working age PwD) to access it through texting, mobile or traditional website app. The basic membership is always free to users and includes features to drive your network, development and career.
It’s a sophisticated technology behind the curtain, but registering is easy and familiar, utilizing #s to indicate interests like #internships; #computers; #arts; #coding; #engineering…you get the idea. Veronica, a virtual assistant, notes these interests in the registration process and will push out opportunities to your personal feed so that you can respond and you’re on your way! Connect with other like-minded candidates with similar interests to strengthen your natural network and social capital.
I respect that Yolobe is working with the disability community on the front end of strengthening this platform. Too often people with disabilities are an afterthought in the world of work or technology adoption, but not so with Equal Access! We’re all about People with Disabilities and the great organizations that support their growth, including Search Inc, JVS Chicago, Chicago’s Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD), Marriott Bridges to Work, ITKAN, IL Dept of Human Services (IDHS), Backbones and TA98.
In fact, we’re focused on breaking down the communication barriers and silos that have existed for too long among these like-minded organizations to share opportunities, take advantage of synergies that are created as a collective, and strengthen our voice to the business community. Hey companies, we’re here and ready to work!
Pat Maher, SPR’s Director of Civic Engagement, continues a personal and company initiative that fosters and develops key civic partnerships. Pat leads SPR’s efforts to support the technical and professional growth of youth and other displaced populations historically overlooked and undervalued.