Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Some businesses actively recruit people with disabilities

From The Wall Street Journal:

Lucy Shi, a job seeker who has a genetic condition that causes short stature, says she's happy to be singled out as a disability candidate as she hunts for a position in New York.

A graduate of New York University, Ms. Shi, 25, recently interviewed with several Wall Street firms at a recruiting event geared toward people with disabilities who aim to develop professional business careers. "It's hard to have a disability that's so visible, and it's just nice to be able to talk to recruiters without competing with the rest of the world," says Ms. Shi, who believes many interviewers view her as a child because of her height.

There are 22 million working-age Americans with disabilities who have come of age under the Americans With Disabilities Act -- passed 16 years ago this month -- which helps to prevent job discrimination against qualified disabled individuals. But only 38% of the nation's working-age disabled have a job, compared with 78% of able-bodied people.

Over the past few years, companies have begun taking bigger steps to bring more of the disabled into the professional work force. The latest effort is partly due to the efforts of Rich Donovan, a former Merrill Lynch trader who has cerebral palsy, a disability that limits his speech and movement.

Mr. Donovan recalls the resistance he met from many recruiters who weren't sure he was nimble enough to perform the physical aspects of a busy trader's job. Even his mentors at Columbia University's business school tried to talk him out of it, saying he'd make a "fine risk manager." He was hired at Merrill and quickly hatched a plan to get more disabled people hired at the firm.

Mr. Donovan's idea was based on the premise that corporate America should recruit and give qualified people with disabilities the same sort of opportunities that his firm -- and most big companies -- already had in place for minorities and women.

Merrill agreed to give it a try, and in 2006 Mr. Donovan founded LimeConnect, with the company as its first partner. Today, the organization matches disabled college-level and professional candidates through private recruiting efforts led by its four major partners: Merrill, Goldman Sachs, PepsiCo and Google.

Last fall, Lime helped its partners source more than 300 disabled internship
candidates from two dozen universities, including Harvard, M.I.T., Princeton and
Georgetown. In May, Lime invited 60 candidates for job interviews in New York;
at least a dozen have been invited back for further interviews.