Authors: John Figiel and Betsy Rahill

Health and Hospital Systems have a great opportunity to expand the diversity of our talent pool if we increase our focus on disability inclusion. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that one in four Americans has some kind of disability, which is defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Disabilities can be visible, invisible or acquired. Census estimates suggest that in the 7-county Chicago region alone there are 800,000 people with disabilities, about half of whom are people of color living in the very communities we serve and seek to hire and yet only 35% of those individuals are employed.

As a first step in learning how one segment of this vast talent pool can become a permanent part of our workforce, we, Sinai Health System and UChicago Medicine, have committed to a unique partnership with Anixter Center, Southside Occupational High School and Safer Foundation. Funding from the national Kessler Foundation’s Signature Employment Grant with a match from the Chicago Community Trust’s Disabilities Fund will allow us to pursue a pilot program aimed at increasing our employment of people with disabilities.

This grant will enable us to embed a Disability Inclusion Coordinator in the HR team of each hospital. The role of the Disability Inclusion Coordinator and the expert partners behind the grant, will be to provide onsite guidance, education, and support in areas such as practice and policy improvement, to help us become more inclusive and welcoming to all members of our communities. . This builds on the relationship each of our hospital systems has with South Side Occupational High School which currently supports interns on our sites, working side by side with our employees. We’ve seen first-hand that their students are committed and productive members of our workforce who support excellence in service delivery.

We look forward to putting systems in place that will ensure that people with disabilities become permanent members of our teams. We expect that these systems will include enterprise wide training and education for our leaders and internal teams on how best to support individuals with disabilities. We were excited to learn that the average accommodation costs employers less than $500, and that disability-friendly workplaces often experience lower turnover and lead to higher levels of productivity.

Stay tuned to learn more about our efforts as well as the results as we will be publishing an employer toolkit at the end of our two-year grant. We have high hopes that this pilot initiative will have long-term implications for meeting our workforce needs while improving the health of communities throughout the Chicago region.