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Jessica Johns, senior counsel at CoxHealth, shares legal pointers about inclusion for people with disabilities at the Oct. 24 EmployAbility Summit.
SBJ photo by Wes Hamilton
Jessica Johns, senior counsel at CoxHealth, shares legal pointers about inclusion for people with disabilities at the Oct. 24 EmployAbility Summit.

Annual summit raises disability awareness for employers

Posted online

More than 25 employers were represented yesterday as roughly 150 people attended the fourth-annual EmployAbility Summit organized by the Missouri Job Center.

Attendees learned about how to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, as well as how organizations can utilize the employment sector. The event was held at The Diamond Room, 2340 W. Grand St.

Jessica Johns, senior counsel at CoxHealth, handles issues involving individuals with disabilities on an everyday basis. She was one of the guest speakers yesterday.

“The approach that CoxHealth takes, and most employers can have legal counsel advise, is consider everything a disability, except someone wearing eyeglasses,” Johns said, adding it’s best to err on the side of inclusion.

Doing so will set employers up for success in regards to compliance with ADA and provide the individual with what they need in the workplace, she said.

“Identify somebody in your organization who is trained in the ADA and who will understand how it works,” she said. “Then train the rest of your management individuals to call that person if they have an issue, instead of trying to handle it on their own.”

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, said Mary Ann Rojas, director of the city of Springfield’s Department of Workforce Development. The annual summit is a way for the Missouri Job Center to expand on its services to clients, some of whom have unique needs.

“Having a disability for some can be perceived as a barrier, but we want to focus on serving that population,” she said, adding that those with disabilities had an unemployment rate in 2017 of 9.2 percent, compared with 4.2 percent in 2017 for those without a disability, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

One of every four adults in the United States has a disability that impacts major life activities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Plus, with more jobs available than people to fill them, it’s important for employers to realize those with disabilities are an untapped resource, Rojas said.

“It’s a demographic that does have talents, skills and abilities they can bring to the workforce,” she said. “We’re just trying to not only focus on breaking down barriers for the individual, but also breaking down those perceived barriers for employers on hiring people with disabilities.”

While businesses are starting to reach out to the Job Center more often as an agency to facilitate those connections, Rojas says more work needs to be done.

“I don’t know if we’re there yet as being that agency, but it has definitely improved over the years, in terms of us being a resource for other businesses,” she said.

Close to the CDC’s analysis that about 25 percent of Americans are disabled, Johns estimated that of CoxHealth’s employees – numbering more than 10,000 – around 20 percent live with a disability.

She said she spends about 70 percent of her time at work dealing with labor and employment issues, and around 60 percent of those issues involve individuals with disabilities. Because there are so many invisible disabilities, Johns said it could be a long time before an employed individual may feel comfortable talking about the issue with their employer, if they ever do.

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