Arc and Chicago Community Trust Moving Employment First
Last week, I was honored to be invited by the Chicago Community Trust for a breakfast
meeting about Employment First. You know when you get an invitation by the Trust, you
are going to be challenged, you are going to be enlightened and you are going to meet
with the movers and shakers in the greater Chicagoland area. This meeting did not
On the agenda were S. Biff Bowman, Northern Trust; Terry Mazany, CEO, The Chicago
Community Trust; Cristal Thomas, Deputy Governor; Steve Pemberton, Walgreens and
Kathy Ryg, Former State Representative and Board Member for the Trust’s Persons
with Disabilities Fund.
Others in attendance included: Cook County Board President Preckwinkle; Karen
Tamley, Mayor’s Office of People with Disabilities; Director Romano, ICDD; Dorelia
Rivera, DHS; Barry Taylor, Equip for Equality; Marca Brisco, CEO, Access Living and
Robin Jones, Chair, Illinois Task Force on Employment & Economic Opportunity for
Persons with Disabilities.
Common themes throughout the morning were best practice in employment, the
importance of diversity and inclusion in the workforce and full employment for people
with disabilities. I was delighted that these business leaders were extremely
knowledgeable about the Americans with Disabilities Act, subminimum wages and
barriers to employment.
Terry Mazany, CEO of the Trust, talked about changing social norms and moving away
from a medical model towards full inclusion. Terry stated we are falling short on the
vision of the ADA with people with disabilities living in poverty, low employment rates and
subminimum wages under mining people’s ability to work.
Terry called upon the leaders in the room to expand their outreach to other CEO’s by
establishing a CEO’s Roundtable around the full employment of people with disabilities
within their corporations and businesses. The will be kicking this off in the Fall of 2014.
The Chicago Community Trust over the past few years has taken a strong leadership
position for the full inclusion of individuals with disabilities in community living, education
and employment. I recommend reading their Quest for Equality and I have copied their
recommendations for employment below.
In addition to promoting traditional employment opportunities for people with disabilities,
promote and support new employment paradigms such as:
Entrepreneurship for people with disabilities who want to start their own small
Highgrowth employment opportunities in the healthcare and technology industries.
Careers in the field of human resources to pave the way for hiring people with
Reallocate state funding to move more people with disabilities into integrated community
competitive employment placement rather than placement into sheltered workshops.
Research employers that are successful in applying best practices in recruiting, hiring,
retaining and promoting people with disabilities within their organizations. Educate
business leaders, job developers, human resource recruiters and hiring managers —
especially within small businesses, which make up the majority of U.S. companies —
on these successful strategies.
Another presenter that morning was Cristal Thomas, Deputy Governor. Cristal’s
comments were spot on and show the commitment of this administration at the highest
levels. Here are her comments on employment.
Employment for Persons with Disabilities Breakfast
Cristal Thomas, Deputy Governor
Good morning. I want to thank the Chicago Community Trust and Northern Trust Bank
for hosting this breakfast. It’s a pleasure to be here and I am glad to see so many of
you here as well.
I was asked to speak this morning about the Illinois Employment First Act. The Act
establishes competitive and integrated employment as the first option when serving
|persons with disabilities of working age, and requires all State agencies to ensure
that this policy is effectively implemented in their programs and services.
While it does not require any employer to give preference to hiring persons with
disabilities, it does challenge us to think differently about how we as a state serve
The Act defines “competitive employment” as work in the competitive labor market
that is performed on a full-time or part-time basis in an integrated setting and for
which an individual is compensated at or above the customary wage and level of
benefits paid by the employer for the same or similar work performed by individuals
who are not disabled.
This is a change for Illinois. In general we are behind other states when it comes to
integrating our disabled population. Integrated employment is not currently the
assumption when developing a care plan, and we maintain a historical system of
employing persons with disabilities in sheltered workshops, which employ people
with disabilities separately from others, often at sub-minimum wages.
The Federal government and many states have shifted away from sheltered
workshops in favor of providing services in the most integrated setting appropriate
to the needs, desires and capabilities of individuals with disabilities.
The legislation also requires the Employment and Economic Opportunity for Persons
with Disabilities Task Force to establish measurable goals and objectives to ensure
implementation of Employment First, and to monitor progress toward these goals.
Governor Quinn supported this legislation. He believes Illinois should be a place where
everyone has opportunity, and persons with disabilities, including those with significant
disability, should be no different. In the coming weeks he will be signing an Executive
Order implementing the legislation and making Illinois an Employment First state.
When the Governor came into office he inherited a state that is behind the nation in
adopting best practices for serving persons with disabilities. Illinois has a higher
proportion of its disabled population living in institutions, and when the Governor came
into office the state was fighting several class action lawsuits under Olmstead, which
requires that persons with disabilities be served in the least restrictive setting possible.
The Governor immediately entered into settlement of these lawsuits, agreeing to move
people with disabilities out of nursing homes and other institutional settings and provide
services so they could live successfully in the community. He closed the state-run
Jacksonville Developmental Center, moving a majority of those residents into community
settings, and we are now in the process of closing the developmental center in Murray.
And he has been recognized nationally for his efforts.
As we continue to “rebalance” our system of providing long-term services and supports,
we’ve learned that successful community placement isn’t only about finding a place for
people to live, it is about helping them integrate into their communities to the fullest
Employment First is a part of Governor Quinn’s commitment to rebalancing our
approach to serving this population. To do that requires both a change to state policies
and programs, but also a culture change for how we all look at persons with disabilities.
In the past our society didn’t think persons with disabilities, particularly severe disabilities,
could live in the community and instead warehoused them in institutions. We’ve learned
that isn’t true, disabled persons have a better quality of life in smaller, integrated settings.
Today, many in our society still doubt that persons with disabilities can be successful in
integrated work environments. There’s an assumption that they aren’t capable. Yet what
we are finding over and over again is that this also isn’t true. Most people with disabilities
are more capable than we give them credit for, and with reasonable accommodations can
do as well or better than their non-disabled counterparts in certain jobs.
Many of you know this firsthand. We’re going to hear this morning from Walgreens about
their success, and there are other success stories from national companies like AMC
Theaters and Bank of America. They don’t hire people with disabilities merely because
it’s the right thing to do, although it is, but also because they have found them to be
dedicated and capable employees.
I hope the businesses here today will join us in advancing Employment First in Illinois. We
need you to be champions, commit to being model employers for persons with disabilities
and help recruit others into this initiative. We look forward to working with you.
Tony Paulauski Executive Director
The Arc of Illinois
20901 S. LaGrange Rd. Suite 209
Frankfort, IL 60423