C.J. Petitti knew he'd have to do something to address the job glut.
The president of CallTech Communications Inc. was looking to add 400 employees to his staff of 600, and every little bit would help.
His answer: As he expanded the West Columbus business in 1998, he invested $120,000 to provide better facilities for employees with disabilities. Changes included wider aisles, designated parking spaces and singular restrooms that were handicapped-accessible.
The payoff: He has access to a new group of job candidates for his growing call center business.
About a year ago, Petitti found a resource for workers through the Governor's Initiative on Jobs for People with Disabilities -- a grant program in which the state purchases fixed assets for a company, such as equipment or machinery, in return for the company's promise to hire eligible, pre-screened, qualified workers with disabilities.
"In our line of work, we found people with disabilities were some of our better employees," Petitti says. "They showed up for work. Their customer skill set is very good. We really feel strongly about the skill set the handicapped people bring, and the attrition rate is a lot less. They tend to stay employed with you."
So far, he's hired eight full-time employees through the Governor's Initiative, and he's gone beyond that program to hire another half-dozen in various other positions.
"The purpose of (the initiative) is to help grow jobs for people with disabilities in their local communities," says Janet Kohn, employer services coordinator for the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission, which administers the program.
"What we're looking for is well-paying jobs with benefits," she says, adding that the positions must be full time and provide the employee with access to health coverage.
"We're very selective about the companies we work with because it has to be the right match. They have to have the kinds of jobs that we have people in our systems trained and ready for," she says.
CallTech was a good candidate for the program because employees could be wheelchair users or have visual disabilities and still work at the call center. Only people with speech disabilities would not be able to perform the job duties, Petitti says.
CallTech, Kohn points out, also was willing and able to accommodate employees through the use of adaptive equipment. For example, one software package audibly reads computer screen copy through a headpiece to employees with visual disabilities so they can respond to the caller's needs.
"Computers have really opened the doors to people who are blind or visually impaired to help them work at a competitive level," she says, adding that employees provided through the commission are trained to use such software.
The commission works with employers to determine how many jobs the companies will have and how many the commission thinks it can fill over a period of time. Currently there are 34 agreements in the state with 359 job slots. The commission also provides disability awareness training to employers -- not only those in the Governor's Initiative but whenever employers request the service.
Normally with the Governor's Initiative, negotiations start with the program's offer of $5,000 worth of tangible assets to the company for each job slot. The negotiated price may be higher if the company is offering higher-paying jobs with better benefits.
"We purchase job slots over a period of time and, as positions come open, we refer applicants," Kohn says.
Employers decide whether the applicant meets their requirements.
"Our consumers have to meet their requirements, and they competitively interview like anybody else," she says.
"We work with the person until they're stabilized on the job and then follow them for 90 days," Kohn says. "The goal is they have to be independent by the time we close the case, which is 90 days after they're stabilized on the job. If everything's going well, we back out, but if there are problems, they can come back to us."
CallTech's contract is for eight slots over three years.
In return, the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission purchased 265 Herman Miller Inc. chairs for the call center.
Technically, the chairs belong to the commission until the end of the three-year contract, at which time they're turned over to CallTech.
"That was just an added benefit," Petitti says, noting that the company has since grown to 1,500 employees in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. "We were looking for the bodies." How to reach: C.J. Petitti, CallTech Communications Inc., 621-5512 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Janet Kohn, Rehabilitation Services Commission, 466-9364
Joan Slattery Wall (email@example.com) is associate editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.
What you can do
Visit the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission Web site, www.state.oh.us/rsc/ESU/index.html, for more details on the Governor's Initiative on Jobs for People with Disabilities and other services provided to employers.
Check out SOAR, a Searchable Online Accommodation Resource, designed to allow users to explore accommodation options for persons with disabilities in the work setting. The service, launched last year by the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities' Job Accommodation Network, can be found at www.jan.wvu.edu/soar.
The site contains information and accommodation examples for disabilities including arthritis; cancer; lupus; multiple sclerosis; wheelchair use; learning, hearing and vision impairments; heart conditions; and cumulative trauma disorders. Consultants can be reached by phone at (800) 526-7234.
The President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities provides businesses with numerous fact sheets with topics including worksite accommodations, recruiting and hiring practices, customers with disabilities and facts vs. myths. Visit the Web site at www.pcepd.gov and click on the "business focus" link, call (202) 376-6200 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.