A flood of blue with a sketch of a yellow open door and two speech bubbles, and the letters "Q" and "A" over the sketch of the door

Creating Gainful Employment For All

Taking a look through the roles of recruitment and human resources at IBVI

For National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), I thought it would be beneficial to explore how the employment process actually works. So, I sat down with IBVI’s recruiter and human resources manager to get their unique perspectives. Both of these positions take a hands-on approach to employing those with disabilities—specifically those who are blind or visually impaired. Through this conversation, I was able to understand what NDEAM looks like through an organization whose primary goal is to employ those who are blind or visually impaired.

 

Can you both introduce yourselves and tell us a bit about what you do at IBVI?

C: My name is Connie Knutson, and I’m the HR Manager at IBVI. I oversee the human resources department at our organization, and have been in the human resources field for the last 20 years. I’m honored to be part of IBVI because of the mission to employ people who are legally blind and visually impaired. The unemployment rate for people that are blind is estimated to be 70 percent. That is much higher than our national unemployment rate that is at about 3.7 percent. That’s why it’s important to have organizations like IBVI.

M: I am Michele Repischak, and I am the recruiter at IBVI. I am responsible for the recruitment and onboarding for all openings at our multiple locations throughout the country. In my position, I have the privilege of attending events, conferences, and conventions within the blind and visually impaired community. At these events, I have met hundreds of talented individuals eager to work up to their highest potential.

 

Connie, can you tell us about NDEAM and what that looks like at IBVI?

C: The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) created NDEAM in 1945 after World War II because many service members were returning with disabilities. President Truman wanted to recognize the contributions of people with disabilities to the workforce, and thus, October became NDEAM. The theme this year is “The Right Talent, Right Now.” 

According to the DOL’s website, this theme was created to “emphasize the essential role people with disabilities play in America’s economic success, especially in an era when historically low unemployment and global competition are creating a high demand for skilled talent.”

At IBVI, we don’t need a reminder to celebrate the contributions made by individuals with disabilities. Since our mission is employing people who are blind and visually impaired, it’s part of our everyday culture. We firmly believe that ensuring all employees feel a sense of belonging and camaraderie is crucial to the overall happiness and success of our organization. 

One of the committees we have at IBVI is called the OneVision Committee. This committee was started several years ago and formed to unite our employees under the following mission: empower the blind, enlighten the sighted. This committee has several events each year—one example is White Cane Day. On White Cane Day, our sighted employees can be blindfolded and walk through an obstacle with a cane. This simulation gives them a small glimpse of what it’s like to be blind or visually impaired. 

 

How does your role at IBVI fit into the goal of NDEAM? 

M: At IBVI, we are experts in providing assistive technology necessary for individuals to perform the functions of their jobs. One of our core values is to be the leading voice in educating businesses on how to create, design, and build accessible workplaces for those who are blind or visually impaired.

C: The goal of NDEAM is to create awareness about building an inclusive workplace and commending the skills and talents individuals with disabilities add to it. Recruiting employees to work at our organization is the primary function of the HR Department, and we are lucky to have a full-time recruiter, Michele Repischak. We’re always looking for new ways to try to find blind and visually impaired candidates. A couple of examples include attending NFB/NIB job fairs and presenting at events that are specific to those who are blind or visually impaired. 

I think a lot of employers are hesitant to employ individuals with disabilities because they’re afraid. They’re unsure of how to make accommodations, but many are straightforward and inexpensive. We always have conversations with our employees before their start date to discuss accommodations.

 

What are some of the struggles companies like IBVI face when trying to recruit and retain those with disabilities? How is IBVI combating those?

M: Our corporate culture provides upward mobility to all employees that demonstrate high performance and dedication toward achieving company goals and objectives. In support of our employee’s individual goals, our company’s Education and Development Policy includes Individual Development Plans (IDP), tuition reimbursement and an on-site educational center for use by blind and visually impaired employees who are requesting additional assisted technology training.

C: The biggest struggle we have is trying to find blind and visually impaired individuals who are interested in working at IBVI. We do multiple things to try to combat this. In our job postings, we indicate that we have a preference for hiring individuals that are blind and visually impaired, and Michele attends multiple job fairs throughout the year. The purpose of these job fairs is twofold—to find employees, but also educate the public on our mission.

The month of NDEAM is an excellent reminder for all organizations to think about inclusion in the workplace, and the value that individuals with disabilities have in helping organizations be successful. One thing Connie and Michele both suggested when trying to diversify your workforce is to think about how you can reach individuals with disabilities, such as posting on new websites, attending additional job fairs or implementing any changes at your company to make it more accessible.

For more information on NDEAM, check out the Department of Labor’s website at:

https://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/ndeam/.

 

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