United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania
March 10, 2020 - 2:00pm to 3:00pm

Joyce welcomes Megan Grabski, consultant and project manager, and Heather Sedlacko, director, of programs for seniors and people with disabilities at United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania to the show. In addition to sharing their prospective roles at United Way, they will discuss the Pittsburgh, PA-based Disability Inclusion Consortium. Led by Giant Eagle, FedEx Ground and the United Way of Southwestern PA, the consortium is made up of 30+ Western PA employers who are making it a business imperative to hire more people with disabilities. These employers have discovered successful ways to leverage an untapped talent pool to satisfy their hiring needs and realize business benefits. This year marking the 30th Anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Ms. Grabski and Ms. Sedlacko will share what they think still needs to be done to see the unemployment rate drop for people with disabilities.

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MARCH 10, 2020

1:00 P.M.(CT)



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   >> JOYCE BENDER: Welcome everyone. Hope you are having a great day. And I am talking to you today from Washington, D.C. because this evening is the American Association of People with Disabilities gala and we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the signing of the ADA. We will be honoring senator Bob Dole, Senator Harkin will be with us, Senator Duckworth, Congressman Sensenbrenner. I mean, it's an amazing, amazing venue.

    So, I am the Vice Chair. Ted Kennedy, Jr., is the Chair. He will be the Master of Ceremonies this evening.

   I want you to know that we are taking every precaution necessary with the Coronavirus. And I mean everything we can think of.  I want to say about the Coronavirus that my heart and my thoughts are with families around the world that have lost someone or that are in a destitute situation, whether they be in China, who, by the way, China is our largest listening audience of other countries other than the United States. And, you know, it's so terrible what has happened there. So, just know this: We are thinking about you here in the United States. 

   You know, my pastor was talking this past weekend and he said, at our church is also taking precautions. Like no shaking hands, the pamphlets that are distributed, you get on your own. So, you know, with hand sanitizers everywhere. So, as he said, and I think this is really great advice, follow what the CDC says, be very prepared.  You know, obviously, if you have a cough and you are sick, stay home. All preparations follow everything that the CDC is saying but don't panic. Because if we all go into panic mode, we're going to have an even bigger problem in this country. And you know how resilient we all are. And I know this will pass, but, for right now, I would encourage you to be prepared, follow what the CDC is saying. If you are sick, stay home.

    Many people with disabilities, if you have some underlying, significant situation, don't go out into large crowds of people.  But, other than that, here I am. I'm living with epilepsy and here I am off to the gala tonight. And we are being very cautious, but the show is proceeding ahead.

    With that, speaking of the gala tonight, a special shout‑out to Yoshiko Dart who hopefully I'll be seeing in a few hours. You know it's Yoshiko's husband, the late Justin Dart, who worked so hard, tirelessly with Yoshiko before the ADA was passed to get it passed; then after that to fight for the disability rights of people with disabilities. And she has kept her husband's spirit and leadership alive and we love you, Yoshiko.

   And I have to tell you, Highmark, what a great company. They have sponsored as the lead sponsor of this show for four years. Thank you so much for your support. And we have another year‑long sponsor and that is formerly known as People's Natural Gas.  Thank you, Morgan O’Brien, for your incredible commitment. Then we have Employment Options which is a new sponsor, but we have another new sponsor ‑‑ just like in the past two weeks ‑‑ Wells Fargo.

   And let me tell you about Regina Heyward who is an executive at Wells Fargo and behind so much of this. She is a rock star and you will be hearing her on my show. And if you want to, you know, if you go to Apple or Spotify, you can hear any of the shows; any of the old shows. You can hear this show again. So, go to Apple or Spotify, put in Regina Heyward, and that's h‑e for Heyward, go listen to the show and you will be hearing her on again.

    With that, you know, again, welcome everyone. I want to tell you I always love a show when it's Pittsburgh. Even though I'm in D.C. I love Pittsburghers. I am a Pittsburgher. I just spoke at this conference, there were 1,000 people in the audience. And, of course, and I said of course I live in the best city in America, Pittsburgh, which you know what are they going to do, I'm up on the stage. But someone came up to me afterwards and said oh no you don't Philadelphia is the best city. I said at least we're in the same state.

    But I love Pittsburgh. And I love our two guests today. Megan Grabski is the Project Manager at 21 and Able. And Heather Sedlacko the Director of Programs for Seniors and People with Disabilities from the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

   Heather and Megan, welcome to the show.

   >> HEATHER SEDLACKO: Thanks for having us.

   >> MEGAN GRABSKI: Hi, Joyce.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Heather, I'm going to start with you.

   To are our listeners around the world‑‑ and by the way we have 17 countries with listeners ‑‑ for all those countries and for people in the United States, of course, how did you first become involved with the United Way?

   >> HEATHER SEDLACKO: I joined with the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania in 2013 as the Director of Programs for seniors and people with disabilities. And, you know, a big focus of what we do is employment in partnership with Bender Consulting and with Highmark and so many wonderful partners here in the Pittsburgh area. And I'm just really excited to be on your show today.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Well we're excited to have you on the show.

    How about you, Megan? How did you get involved?

   >> MEGAN GRABSKI: Thanks, Joyce, for this opportunity as well. We're happy to be here.

    Workforce development training and education has been my lifelong career. And I became involved with the United Way through a referral from a friend and former colleague Damian who worked with me at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Heather Sedlacko reached out saying she needed someone with experience working with employers and navigating the workforce world to carry out programming of a grant that we had earned ‑‑ or that the United Way had learned from the Kessler Foundation. So, I was excited to have the privilege to join the team of the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania to help carry out that plan utilizing an employment model with employers to ultimately have more people with disabilities gain employment.  So that was in 2015.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Well, boy, aren't you glad you recruited that person, Heather?

   >> HEATHER SEDLACKO: I sure am.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: You two are the dynamic duo. And because you work a lot in disability ‑‑ people ask me all the time, why do you do this. Of course, you both know my story as a woman living with epilepsy and how I got involved in all of this. But I'll ask both of you.

    Heather, what led you to become involved in disability, in the disability community?

   >> HEATHER SEDLACKO: Well, Joyce, so, you know, United Way is that place where the human a service sector and the business sectors come together. And it's a really unique opportunity to work in both areas. I have to say that my time at the United Way has provided me with so many wonderful chances to learn more about disability, to understand just understand different aspects of it and really to make so many wonderful friends who have disabilities. And, you know, while I came to this work because it was part of my job, to be honest my background is in aging services. The aging half of my job more than the disability part of my job. I really come to enjoy it and feel very passionate about the work we do. Particularly around employment but all the areas we work in ‑‑ housing and serving and supporting people with complex disabilities. And, you know, it's just really so many amazing people working together. I'm so grateful for this.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Yes, and, boy, all of that is tied together in so many ways. I mean, working with the aging.

    Megan, how about you, how did you first become involved in working with the disability community?

   >> MEGAN GRABSKI: I've been working, you know, and carrying out programming that included at risk populations my entire career, including high school students, adults that were under and unemployed. And, you know, inside those two sectors of course there are people with disabilities, right. Because one in four people have a disability. Also, I had a half-sister who was much older than me who in her younger girls was at Polk State School and Hospital for the Mentally Retarded, as they called it way back then, situated in the northern part of Pennsylvania. And then in the '80s they moved her into a home with two other women. So, stir all that around in a pot and it felt like a very, very perfect fit for my skill set to be honored to be working with Heather and all of the great folks at the United Way that are involved in this work with people with disabilities.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Yes, and we're glad to have you.

   I want to say, when you were talking about that one in four people with disabilities being someone with a disability, that is why any time I speak anywhere I always talk about the companies ‑‑ and this happens all the time ‑‑ that contact me and they will say, Joyce, we need you to come here, you know, we haven't hired people with disabilities before; we look at our abysmal population of people that we don't have, people with disabilities, and we want to start hiring people with disabilities. And then I get to tell them, oh but you already have.  You know, you have people working with you with bipolar disorder, depression, epilepsy, MS, diabetes, heart disease, cancer. I mean, I could go on and on.  It's just they aren't telling you. But that is also why if you ever hear me speak, you know, don't go up to someone else and say, well, you know, I heard Joyce Bender speak but I do have a problem with hiring people with disabilities. Because guess what? You could be talking to someone with a disability.    So, it is amazing that people do not realize how large our constituency is, but I'm glad you brought that up because it really is.

    Heather, you work at the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania. What is your ‑‑ what are your main responsibilities there? What are the main areas you work with?

   >> HEATHER SEDLACKO: So many people think of the United Way as a community fundraiser. And so, you know, I'm not on the fundraising team. We certainly have about half of our team here who do the fundraising predominantly from the business community. I am on the other side of the house which is community impact. Megan and I both work on that side. Where we get the opportunity to make sure that all that money that's raised from the community is invested very wisely into community programs that are really making a difference. And, you know, we have three goals around our disabilities area that we, you know, every dollar that we invest of the United Way's money in the community, which is largely decided by committees of volunteers, a very community-based process, is really working toward three goals. The first one is to increase access to competitive employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The second one is to increase access to affordable and accessible housing for people with disabilities. And the third goal is to increase opportunities for those with the most complex disabilities to have meaningful community participation. And that's really individuals who have such significant medical or behavioral health needs that for them, you know, competitive employment really isn't their personal goal but getting out in the community and being part of the community is the goal. And we support those people and their families.

    And so, you know, again as I said, my job is to make sure that all the money that we invest is performing the way that we want it to and helping us reach these really important community goals that we have for Allegheny County.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: And I hope as you are listening that you will consider making a donation to the United Way wherever you are in the United States. As Heather just explained, it isn't just a fundraiser. It is often saving a life. It is often, you know, hope for someone that doesn't have access to food or to the homeless or to people with disabilities. So, I tell people, I don't care how small it is, I don't care if it's five dollars from a pay, I don't care what it is, but I hope you will consider making a contribution.

    Also, how about you, Megan, what are your major responsibilities?

   >> MEGAN GRABSKI: Well my focus, Joyce, is on the employment piece which Heather, you know, just talked about a minute ago. You know, we at the United Way of Southwest PA do not provide direct service but we provide the backbone of supports for these employers as they navigate their way to find more ways to include people with disabilities in their workforce.

   So, you know, the United Way is uniquely positioned with relationships with hundreds of employers.  So that is, you know, one of the beauties of the United Way being involved in all of this work. Because we have a direct ‑‑ sort of a direct line to employers and they listen to the things that are happening because we are, you know, in part the voice of the community.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Yeah. And you know what, hey, Heather, I have a new slogan for the United Way. "United Way, more than a fundraiser." That's what you have to start saying.

   >> HEATHER SEDLACKO: I like it.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Heather, I am so excited, I can't wait until we talk about this, for everyone to hear about the disability inclusion consortium here in Southwestern Pennsylvania. By the way, there aren't a lot of people anywhere in the United States doing this.  So, if you are listening, this is, as I said on LinkedIn, this is a good idea for businesses that are saying how can we be best practices, how can we start employing more people with disabilities or attracting more people with disabilities. So, Heather, how about if you describe it. The disability inclusion consortium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

   >> HEATHER SEDLACKO: You started by saying that Pittsburgh is one of the best cities in the country. And we are so fortunate to have some employers who are really leaders in hiring people with disabilities into their open positions. Highmark is at the top of that list along with PNC and Giant Eagle and FedEx Ground and so many others. And basically, you know, United Way has been working for many years on projects around increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities. And what we learned was that the most effective way to help companies hire more people with disabilities is for them to hear from their peers so they can share business to business what's working around hiring and retaining employees with disabilities.  You know, so that we can talk and kind of echoing the message you have been saying for so many years. That it's not about charity.  It's really about a very savvy workforce, talent pipeline that is largely untapped.

   And so that's the message, that's the purpose of the disability inclusion consortium.  It's really a gathering of 50 businesses, 50 different employers who come together quarterly to talk about different topics around hiring people with disabilities and retaining them into their competitive positions. And these are all different kinds of disabilities, all different kinds of jobs.

   We have, you know, with having 50 employers in the room it's everything from engineering firms to, you know, universities, to, you know, Giant Eagle is a big grocery retailer. FedEx Ground, all these different companies. And they talk to one another. We have experts come in and vendors provided that expertise for us over time as has the national organization Disability:IN and really helping these companies feel supported.

    In addition to having these quarterly gatherings that are business to business, and I should say, you know, this disability inclusion consortium is business led. The co‑chairs are Jeremy Shapira from Giant Eagle and Kristen Crosby from FedEx Ground. United Way provides the backbone on this, but we want this to be really business led.

    In addition to having these employers come together quarterly we offer webinars on some of the topics that we talk about around, you know, the latest webinar I believe was mental health in the workplace, supporting people with invisible disabilities. We've had all sorts of topics. But we also, through a grant from the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council ‑‑ they're the ones who fund this ‑‑ we've been able to offer companies pro bono consulting from Disability:IN so they can have some confidential conversations about what their specific company needs to do or wants to do differently and get support for that.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Yes, and it is fantastic. I want to just comment on something that you said, Heather, and it's so true. Ted Kennedy, Jr. Said to me years ago the best way to get a company to hire people is not by me telling them, you telling them, anyone telling them other than the CEO of a company that is hiring people with disabilities, talking to the CEO of a company that is not hiring people with disabilities. And it is so true. I mean, business to business that is where it really has the biggest impact.

   And as Heather mentioned Jeremy Shapira, whose family, the Sharpiras who own Giant Eagle, the majority of Giant Eagle, I should say, and now they have forever been known as the company that hires people with disabilities way, way back. It is Jeremy the son of David Shapira who wanted to start doing this with Kirsten Crosby from FedEx Ground. So, Heather and Megan do such a fabulous job.  You know, we meet right at one of the companies. Let's see we've been to Giant Eagle, FedEx Ground, Highmark, and next is Covestro; is that right, Heather?

   >> HEATHER SEDLACKO: Yes, correct.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: So, I mean, we're going right to a business site. And then there is an all‑day meeting and, you know ‑‑ well it starts at lunchtime. A luncheon with all the people attending. And then presentations and discussions. And, you know, people are all excited to be there and very enthusiastic about being there. But I'm so proud of what you're doing with this group, you and Megan, and Beth Butler from disability and another great person.

    You know what maybe you could talk about this, Megan. At these meetings, what do you think are some of the main issues that companies discuss?

   >> MEGAN GRABSKI: Thanks, Joyce.  You know, the thing is that when these employers first started getting together it was a little quiet in the room. But, you know, as time went on and they began to get together and learn from each other and learn who each other was, you know, there were lots of open conversations and topics about different things. And, you know, we must say that, you know, when we came into this there was a matrix that was created around the topics, again business to business.  So, it was Jeremy with Giant Eagle and Kirsten at FedEx and Bender consulting, you Joyce and Maury Brocker, Highmark Health, and PNC worked really hard for a long time to get this matrix together. And the topics include having executive leadership on board.

   I think, you know, Joyce, you were just talking about that. Benchmarking and introducing the Disability Inequality Index of Disability:IN who is our partner. The DEI is a tool to measure your disability inclusion efforts. The DEI and you can look that up online. Topics also included culture, hiring goals, accountability. Strategic community partners came together where we brought in about 30 agencies and universities and colleges so meet with employers.     We had a speed networking set up so they could learn from each other.

   Another few topics: Eliminating fear, talent acquisition and hiring so, so critical. Accommodations which was a very lively conversation. We could talk about accommodations for a long, long time. Mental health awareness and stigmas. And, you know, I think those are kind of the big topics but, you know, lots of other things happen in community and in those meetings with these employers.

    We just wanted to also mention the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council and the FISA Foundation and Disability:IN together have helped us also as we created this matrix along the way.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Who did it ‑‑ which organization did it first start with? Was that with developmental disabilities, is that where it first started?

   >> MEGAN GRABSKI: Yes, Heather, do you want to speak to that.

   >> HEATHER SEDLACKO: In terms of who started the grant? Or how we arrived at the matrix.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: How did this start with the grant. Right.

   >> HEATHER SEDLACKO: Yeah, so we ‑‑ the project has two funding sources currently.  You know, we know ‑‑ because United Way had been working so hard on employer engagement here in our region and specifically in Allegheny County for the longest time, and FISA, the FISA Foundation is a wonderful partner of ours. When currently we were applying for a Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council grant, under their employer focused employment area of grants, and then concurrent to that the FISA Foundation was interested in kind of leveraging the work that United Way had started with getting more employers interested in the topic of hiring people with disabilities. And so FISA currently is funding Disability:IN directly for some of the costs of having them come into Southwestern Pennsylvania and work with employers. Then the United Way has a funding through the Developmental Disabilities Council that underwrites sort of my time, Megan's time, meeting costs and then a lot of the development of the curriculum that we work on through the consortium.

    Megan, do you have anything to add to that?

   >> MEGAN GRABSKI: Speaking of together, I think summing that up, everybody together is making this happen.  It's not just one entity here and one entity there but all of us working together and, you know, instrumentally the FISA Foundation and the PA Developmental Disabilities Council helping as Joyce said one of the few opportunities to have a consortium like this in the region.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Yeah. Why I asked you that is a special shout‑out to all those groups that worked with you to make this happen. Because you can't do this alone. You need help across the board. And that's why I wanted to give them a shout‑out. And as FISA Foundation, Christy Troutman is just awesome. They're doing so many great things.

   >> HEATHER SEDLACKO: She is the best. And, you know, to that point, I did want to just make sure that we once again said exactly what you said. While we're not directly funding a lot of other entities, so many wonderful groups have come to the table. The employers that we've already recognized, Bender consulting. I mean, you guys have been key on to the development of this project. And Disability:IN as well.  You know, we also have had OVR at the table over time and then sort of four key employers ‑‑ Giant Eagle, FedEx, Highmark and PNC.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: And it does. It takes everyone working together.

    Before we go to break, as you know, normally on the half‑hour we have our news break. But Peri cannot be with us today and I just can't replace her. Because she's so awesome. But she will be back with us next week. And, with that, we're going to get ready to go to break.

    If you just joined us, we are talking to Megan Grabski and Heather Sedlacko from United Way and they are talking about something near and dear to my heart, the employment of people with disabilities.

    This is Joyce Bender America's voice where Disability Matters at voiceamerica.com. Don't go away, we'll be right back with Megan and Heather.


    Welcome back, everyone. If you just joined us, we're talking to Megan Grabski and Heather Sedlacko from the United Way of Southwestern PA about the great work we're doing in the area of disability inclusion that leads to employment.

   And, you know, we were talking about different subjects that come up when we have the meetings here in Pittsburgh with the employers at one of the company sites. And one thing that I hear people talk about frequently, and, Heather and Megan, I'm sure you hear them talk about this, is self‑ID and not understanding why more people do not voluntarily self‑disclose that they have a disability. And one of the things that we are suggesting and it's interesting because you already talked about it earlier, Heather, is that if you can get leaders at the company with a disability to talk about, you know, their job, their success, and that, of course, living with epilepsy does not stop me from, you know, doing my job, whatever their disability is, that that has a tremendous impact on making people feel more comfortable.

    What do you think about that Heather?

   >> HEATHER SEDLACKO: I couldn't agree with you more. And I think that, you know, it's leaders who are coming to the table and saying I have a disability, I have a mental health challenge, I have depression, I have epilepsy, I have whatever it is. And it's also having co‑workers with disabilities. Because I think that, you know, a lot of the barriers around hiring people with disabilities is around fear and bias around what people's abilities really are. And I think, you know, it seems to be from our experience that the best way to overcome that is by demonstrating success.  It's by having people ‑‑ having co‑workers with disabilities who do just as good a job as a person without any visible disabilities does and really just breaking down those stigmas and those biases that really are inaccurate but until you see somebody be successful, you know, that's the way to break down these barriers.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Oh yes. And that is so true.  You know, that's why I always say, the only way you'll change the work face of America is when you see people with disabilities working at the company.

    How about you, Megan, what do you think about that?

   >> MEGAN GRABSKI: Yeah, I think that, you know, the culture change, you know, it starts with me and it starts with you. And it is, you know, we say what a big, big, thing culture is, and, of course, it is. But we all make a difference in that culture every day as we carry out our activities and, you know, through our workday. And, you know, having a genuine culture like at Bender consulting, you know, for sure. The leadership and the messages that are sent absolutely make a difference and make change.

    Again, one in four people have a disability so, you know, we are everywhere. And, you know, that stigma, of course it's still out there, but we're working to chop it every day.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Yes, we are.

    Here we are 30th anniversary, July 26th, of the signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act. And I was so honored last night at our dinner to have Doro Bush with us again. Doro Bush‑Cook. Doro, I met through Tony who is the chair. So, here you have a democrat and a republican working together so hard on the area of employment of people with disabilities. But we had a cake with the photograph of her father signing the Americans With Disabilities Act. And Doro is so kind that she brought as a gift photographs that actually she wanted them signed.  So, it was from her brother, President Bush, and, you know, she said the thing was the most proudest of, his father, George W. Bush, was the signing of Americans With Disabilities Act. And, you know, here we are 30 years later and guess what? 70 percent of people with disabilities are still not counted in the workforce. How can that be? And what can we do?

    So here we go. Disability Consortium is one of the things we're doing. You got to talk about it. I mean, just as Megan indicated, we have a long way to go but the ship is started to turn. It is starting to turn. And if we all keep working together, it will continue to turn.

    I mean, don't you think that, Megan, don't you think that you are seeing change, positive change?

   >> MEGAN GRABSKI: Absolutely. Absolutely.  You know, the more employers are joining in with the consortium.  You know, we send out invitations, we get calls from more employers. The more employers we have in this and the more that get excited and want to make change ‑‑ because everybody wants to make change, and everyone wants a job. So, everyone wants to work.  So, the more excitement we can produce, the more this will go in the right direction. So, we have lots of employers in our region that are doing great work and we congratulate them and are so grateful for them, you know, being part of this consortium. Because at the end of the day, Heather and I are the administrative support and the backbone of this but it's the employers like you Bender consulting and all the other employers that are making all of this work happen. And they are the ones that are making ‑‑ helping more people with disabilities gain employment.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Yes, I thank you. I agree with you about those employers.  You know, I want to say, again, I think so highly of Jeremy Shapira at giant eagle, of Kirsten Crosby at FedEx Ground because they are the co‑chairs of all this. But Highmark, PNC, how did I forget, he is on my board and I did not mention we went to PNC for one of those meetings. And PNC is all about the employment of people with disabilities. Steve, the Executive Vice President is so awesome. And it is companies like that, companies like Highmark.  You know, David Helmberg, the CEO, is the only executive in my entire career that I ever met with that started like this: You know, Joyce, I haven't seen enough wheelchairs. You know, I haven't seen enough service dogs or people signing. We need to hire more people from you. I mean, like I almost ‑‑ I wanted to tape this because I said oh my God if I had CEOs across America saying this, we would not be at that 70 percent not counted in the workforce. That is just how awesome David and Highmark are. So, we have all these great companies working together that I believe are making a huge difference.

   And they are all interested in employing people. I mean, that is something that's ‑‑ one of the things they talk about, Heather, a lot, is how do we get resources. Wouldn't you agree they talk about that a lot on our meetings?

   >> HEATHER SEDLACKO: Absolutely. Yeah, they're hungry for information. They're hungry for working together, learning from one another. And they really, you know, they really do want to figure out how to train and retain people and really make them part of their workforce. They're looking for that talent pipeline for sure.

   >> MEGAN GRABSKI: And adding to that, you know, as we've been moving forward with this consortium, we've had some of the employers looking for some extra help. So, best Butler with Disability:IN, we have been going together to the employer locations one by one talking to them about their unique situation and how they can move forward and up their game as Mary Brocker from Bender consulting always says.  So how can these employers do a better job. And, you know, all the employers we've been mentioning ‑‑ PNC, Giant Eagle, Bender, FedEx, Highmark ‑‑ they're all doing great work and there's always more to do. So, you know, because we have the expertise of Disability:IN. It is a great opportunity for these employers at no cost to have someone come in one‑on‑one to help them think through things.

    There was one, for example, one employer that had no disability inclusion strategy at all. A smaller employer but yet they were very interested because they were coming to these disability inclusion consortium meetings. So, Beth Butler and I went out and talked to them about how they would begin, the steps they would take and what was needed for them to begin to jump into this. And, you know, at the end of the day it's just doing something, right. Where maybe you didn't do anything before making small change every day.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Every day, yes.

    Speaking of Disability:IN, wow, they are so awesome. They are. Jill Houghton and her husband Andy also are on my Bender Advisory Board. And actually, Andy is my partner in our software product, I disability. Which, by the way, I'm so proud to them you we have over 4 million business users on platform. And this is our product that is an eLearning product that teaches companies how to work with and communicate to people with disabilities.

   Andy, I have to always give credit to Andy for, first, coming up to me telling me he wanted to do this and for Bender to be the company that it was under. So, I mean, he is just fabulous.

    But Jill, oh my God, Jill Houghton is the CEO of Disability:IN. I remember when I would go to this, I'm not kidding you there would be like 300 people. I went to it when it was really small. Smaller than that. Now here we are, it's sold out every year, the Disability:IN conference in July is sold out every year. And we went to from what I just told you to like 2,000. I won't be surprised if they have 3,000 attendees by this year. I mean, they are really rocking it. I mean, that is ‑‑ all these big federal contractors from Microsoft to Highmark, you know, that attend this. And I would suggest everyone go to this. And they are so well‑known.

    You know what I love, Heather and Megan? I love they went from being called the USBLN to Disability:IN. Disability:IN. Not differently‑abled. Not handi‑capable. Not all of these other things that people say. But Disability:IN. Wow! I told that board ‑‑ Regina Heyward who is on their board was also at the dinner last night and on my Bender Advisory Board and I told her how proud I am of that board making that decision. But they are just a wonderful organization.

   And, Heather, you work with Disability:IN. Can you talk about that and tell our listeners how you work with Beth?

   >> HEATHER SEDLACKO: Absolutely.

   So, you know, Joyce, you explained about Disability:IN which is really the national place for employers to come together to, you know, build their resources on hiring and retaining employees with disabilities. And they have been a key partner to provide technical expertise to the employers that are attending the disability inclusion consortium. And Megan referenced the Disability Equality Index; really that is a Disability:IN tool that businesses can use to assess their own, you know, their own capabilities and capacity to hire and retain workers with disabilities and as a tool to get better.

    You know, we've kind of broken that apart for the disability inclusion consortium meetings and really, you know, we take it topic by topic. We don't require that the companies officially take the Disability Equality Index. Some of them have, some of them haven't. But we know that those are the topics that employers are really interested in. Those are the things that can really make a difference. So, it is a reference tool for us.

    Then Bess Butler who is with Disability:IN does the individual consulting to help people in whatever area of disability inclusion that they're interested in increasing. So, Disability:IN is a key partner to what I am doing.

    Megan, would you add anything to that?

   >> MEGAN GRABSKI: I think ‑‑ thanks, Heather. A couple more things about Disability:IN. As Joyce referenced the conference with over 2,000‑‑ who knows, maybe it will be 3,000 this year ‑‑ it's in July on the 13‑16th in Orlando. You can find out more about that at disabilityin.org. Also, on that website are all the questions and all the pieces around Disability Equality Index and you can learn lots more there. Also, the Accenture report which was, you know, talked about from the AAPD where Joyce is right now.  The Disability Inclusion Advantage, a great report with statistics on, you know, how it matters that people with disabilities gain employment.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: And that is an awesome report. Ted Kennedy, Jr., who, as I mentioned, is the Chair of AAPD and is also on the Bender Advisory Board‑‑  I'm thinking of all these people because we just had our dinner last evening ‑‑ he went to Accenture and asked them:  Hey, could you do a study just showing companies that hire people with disabilities; You know, let's get some data; what happens. And Accenture is so awesome they did this at no fee. They did this pro bono. And what ended up happening is that lo and behold companies that hire people with disabilities were more profitable than companies that don't. And they had all of this data that they had put together and it just ‑‑ you know, once again, data, that's where the rubber meets the road ‑‑ and it just really has had an impact. I was so thrilled when that came out. And if you go to disabilityin.org you can get a lot of this information that we're talking about. And if you are interested in your company using that tool that Heather talked about, the DEI, the Disability Equality Index, where you assess your company and when the results are given, you know, there's some companies that come in at an 80, some at 100. But there's some that are not listed at all because, you know, they have a lot of work to do yet. And that's okay. That's how you find out if you have a lot of work to do.

    But the thing is that Ted Kennedy worked with Tom DiNapoli the comptroller of New York who is over $250 billion in pension funds and got him to write a letter. He wrote a letter that was going out to CEOs saying, when we look at the areas that you work in such as, we'll say, environment, or women, you know what are you doing in these areas. Because they look at all this before they make investments. We're going to include disability. Disability equality. We're going to see what you are doing. Well, didn't this take off. Then the Oregon comptroller told Ted he was mad he didn't call him. And pretty soon everybody is on board and they have like $2 trillion in investors. And I am believing that Ted is going to be responsible for a big change. Because, you know, got to hit people where it matters and that's money. And Bank of America, they also signed on. So, think about this. When huge corporations want to get a loan or investment Bank of America is going to say what are you doing with disability. I mean, I just think that is so great. So, I'm so glad that you work with Disability:IN because they also have so much credibility, Heather and Megan.

   So, here we are, what am I talking about the 30th anniversary of the signing of the ADA. We'll start with you, Heather. Here's my question. What do you think needs to happen so that we won't have this high unemployment of people with disabilities?

   >> HEATHER SEDLACKO: So, I think we need to keep breaking down the barriers one by one.  You know, so the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, we really focus on that from a policy and practice standpoint. So, from a practice standpoint, we have the disability inclusion consortium. Before that we had the career transition project where we embed human resource professional and companies that help the job seeker with disabilities connect to jobs that they're qualified for at companies and help ease that application process. So, you know, we really are excited about the practical things that we're doing to help employers and help job seekers with disabilities find competitive employment.

    But there are also policy barriers that we know that exist and we're working on breaking those down as well.

    In Pennsylvania we're currently working on a piece of changing a law through the hashtag #I want to work campaign. It is a self‑advocacy campaign run by people with disabilities where we're trying to lift the income limits on our medical assistance for workers with disabilities program which is the Medicare ticket ‑‑ Medicare buy‑in program for people who are working and still need the Medicaid home and community-based services.  You know, the limits on what they can earn really affect their ability to progress in their career and to meet their maximum earnings potential. So, we're working on changing that law so that people can earn more and use their skill sets fully.

   I think it's really looking at the practice but also those policies that are getting in the way of more people having jobs.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Well, actually, Heather, wow, you guys are so interesting, we're almost to the end of the show. Since I have you right now, Heather, what message would you like to leave with our listeners today?

   >> HEATHER SEDLACKO: Well, you know, I think that it's just ‑‑ we can change these high unemployment and poverty levels by taking advantage of the resources that are available whether you are a job seeker with disabilities or an employer who wants to hire more people with disabilities.  You know what we're doing in Pittsburgh I think is really incredible and I'm very proud of it but there are resources across the country. Disability:IN is a national organization. So, regardless of why you are coming to the table there are resources out there. And we hope you will take advantage of them.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Yes, me too.

    How about you Megan?

   >> MEGAN GRABSKI: I say thank you to Joyce Bender and Bender consulting and all the employers that are involved in the consortium that are make a difference in spreading the news to more employers and more employers. You know, and I think reaching out and saying hello and smiling and connecting to anyone that is around you as a human being no matter what they look like or whether or not you think they like you or you like them, challenge yourself to do that. Because you never know how you can change their day and you never know how they may change yours.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: So true. So, true.

    Heather and Megan, thank you so much for being with us today.

   >> HEATHER SEDLACKO: Thank you for having us, Joyce. It was really a pleasure. We love working with you and appreciate you a lot. 

   >> JOYCE BENDER: The feeling is mutual.

   We end every show with a quote. And today the quote is about our theme for the year at Bender, which is justice. And that is... "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," said Martin Luther King, Jr.

    This is Joyce Bender, America's Voice, where Disability Matters at voiceamerica.com.

   Hope to see you at the AAPD gala and talk to you all next week with our guest Shannon Austin.



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