By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer
Business leaders from across the city met in October for the fourth annual Disability Inclusion Opportunity Summit, a daylong meeting of breakout panels and discussions on how to better include disabled workers into the workplace.
The Chicagoland Business Leadership Network and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce presented the summit, bringing together hiring professionals to discuss things like mental health in the workplace, online accessibility and best practices for disability recruitment.
Rob Hitchcock, the president of government and consumer solutions for the Health Care Service Corporation welcomed attendees and said there are ample opportunities for disabled workers.
“We’re struggling to fill open positions,” Hitchcock said. “We view this as a wonderful opportunity to recruit and get talent into our organizations, and I know many of you feel the same way.”
The summit did more than focus on employers and their needs. At one point, the conversation turned to the disabled employees themselves.
“We’re going to talk about the power of owning your identity and the power of the beauty that exists within us.” said Jill Houghton, president and CEO of Disability: IN. “One in five of us have a disability. And it’s cool.”
Houghton said disabilities have workarounds and disabled people don’t need to be labeled as differently abled or special because there is nothing wrong with being disabled.
Suhail Tariq, one of the panelists, echoed this sentiment with his own experiences at work. He said he can compete with coworkers who are not disabled because he is willing to work hard.
“I am no different than any of you guys,” Tariq said. “We’re no different than anyone else. It’s just hard work. I like my mantra to my executive committee, which is, ‘You may through a certain way get to the end goal, but I’ll get to the end goal too, the way I am comfortable doing it, and if I need any help because of my disability, then I will raise my hand.’”
Panelist Ben Lumicao, an attorney for Allstate, said open dialog about abilities is welcome because the days of ignoring a disability are over—and that’s a good thing.
Another panelist, Shannon Maher, a recruiting programs specialist with Exelon, said the challenge is two-sided, as disabled workers need to own their disability and recognize it, just as much as employers do.
“We bring many talents to the table because of our disabilities,” she said.