Q&A: AHRC New York City on Disability Employment Awareness Month and Workplace Accessibility
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October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and at Salesforce, we’re on a path toward a better, more equal world. Over the past 19 years, we’ve been partners with The Arc San Francisco, an organization whose mission is to transform the lives of adults with developmental disabilities by advancing lifelong learning, personal achievement and independence, and have expanded this partnership to Arc chapters in New York, Indianapolis and Bellevue. Salesforce not only employs Arc participants in our offices but continues to support Arc chapters through board representation, financial backing, business advisory and more.
Recently, we sat down with Marco Damiani, CEO and Shauna Lozada, Director of Corporate Partnerships and Business Development of AHRC New York City, a regional chapter of The Arc to learn more about the organization, highlight their story and how together, we can break down barriers to create a more accessible workplace.
Can you tell us about ARC, and specifically AHRC NYC, and what your mission is?
Damiani: AHRC New York City is a chapter of The Arc of New York, and also a member of The Arc of the U.S. AHRC New York City was founded in 1949 by a mom in the Bronx, who had a son with developmental disabilities, and asked if there were any other mothers in the neighborhood that wanted to form a nursery for their kids. 70 years later, we’re the largest non-profit in the country supporting this population. Our mission is to realize the potential of people with disabilities, to give them a life that they choose, and to be a strong social justice organization for the rights of people with disabilities.
Salesforce has had a long partnership with The Arc San Francisco and since 2017, AHRC NYC. Can you walk us through the relationship and how it’s grown over the years?
Damiani: We’re very fortunate and proud to have Salesforce as a partner. Salesforce has reflected the forward thinking that we believe is critical for corporate partnerships and creating equal opportunities for all in the workplace.
Lozada: Salesforce started the partnership at The Arc San Francisco. Salesforce, then a smaller company, made a commitment to employing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and worked with our sister organization, the Arc of San Francisco. In November of 2017, the program expanded to New York City, ultimately growing to 22 employees. Since then, the program has spread to Salesforce’s Bellevue, Washington and Indianapolis, Indiana offices.
What’s the value of having AHRC employees in a company’s workspace and what do these roles involve?
Damiani: These employees perform functions that are valuable to companies and these employees also form relationships with coworkers who do not have disabilities. Coworkers see the value in having someone with a disability in the workforce and see value in what they bring to the corporation. Also, very importantly, there is merit in a company being a supporter of people with disabilities in the workplace.
There are a lot of people who might work at an organization who might have some type of a disability but have not disclosed this fact because it wasn’t something that was typically acceptable. It’s important that a policy of inclusion and acceptance is evident.
We know that Ned Bealy of AHRC is one of the first 50 ARC employees internationally to gain employment through the organization. Can you tell us about his experience pre-Salesforce and what his career path has looked like?
Lozada: Ned Bealy started off as a student in AHRC New York City’s Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York. AHRC NYC developed and operates inclusive higher education programs at City University campuses around the city – college for people with I/DD was once thought as not achievable! Once he graduated, Ned had some challenges in obtaining employment. His speech difficulties made it really hard for him to interview with employers.
After graduating from college, it was approximately two years before he received his first opportunity. He worked at a craft store starting off as a volunteer because he wasn’t able to interview like other prospective employees. When the Salesforce opportunity came along, I knew Ned would be perfect for the position and I brought him in to interview. Because of Ned’s speech difficulties, I asked for his permission to disclose to the interviewer that this was not going to be a typical interview. Ned was allowed to write his answers. He did well on the interview which led to a position on Salesforce’s Real Estate and Workplace Services team.
The rest is history. Ned has been with Salesforce for almost two years and over that period, AHRC New York City has placed over 700 employees at leading companies throughout the region.
Recruitment and retention are a big focus in the workplace today. Can you tell us about the tenure of these employees and how this impacts culture in an organization that partners with AHRC?
Lozada: The data speaks for itself. In November 2017, Salesforce started by hiring five AHRC NYC employees. All five employees are still employed at Salesforce, and an additional seventeen people have been hired since then. We provide support by having job coaches working alongside people with I/DD to ensure they learn and are performing their jobs. People with I/DD have a retention rate upwards of 80 percent after the first year.
How does an organization partner with AHRC locally and nationally?
Lozada: The first step would be reaching out. A company that wants to get involved should contact AHRC New York City to start the conversation. From there, we walk employers through the whole process to get the program off the ground.
Are there any additional details that you’d like to share?
Damiani: I’d like to build on what I think has been an extraordinary partnership starting in 2000, and one that has continued to build momentum. New partnerships are important for lots of reasons, but I think the most important reason a partnership works is a common vision and a shared sense of direction and positive energy. We’re excited about the next chapter of our relationship with Salesforce, and the potential to work together nationally, and possibly even support international locations.
To learn more about AHRC and how you can further your company’s accessibility programming, head here.