David Westbrook, well known as a Kansas City advocate for people with disabilities, chose a deliberate word Thursday in opening remarks at the Greater Kansas City Business Leadership Network’s luncheon.
The organization, he said, exists to help employers fulfill their obligation to consider people with disabilities for hire.
As keynote speaker Jennifer Arnold later pointed out, no law requires affirmative action in respect to disability. It’s up to individuals to think big and up to employers to “focus on our abilities, not our disabilities.”
A co-star of “The Little Couple,” a TLC reality program that has been televised since 2009, Arnold has surmounted countless physical problems to graduate from medical school and become a neonatologist. Arnold, who is currently medical director of a training center at Texas Children’s Hospital, focused her remarks on the medical community’s need to encourage more physicians who have disabilities and mirror the populations they serve.
The physician, who stands 3 feet 2 inches tall, only partly joked that she chose to specialize in caring for babies because they were the patients sure to be smaller than she is. Stepstools and low-hung hand sanitizers, she said, are examples of the accommodations she has needed to be successful in her career — plus the opportunity to prove what she can do.
The business organization’s annual DisAbility Champions Awards luncheon, held at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center, this year honored the Staples fulfillment and distribution center in Kansas City.
Tim Menne, human resources manager at Staples, said the fulfillment facility has hired 12 people with disabilities by working closely with the Rehabilitation Institute of Kansas City to find the workers, who have met and exceeded expectations for attendance and job performance.
Menne said workplaces need a disability “champion” to commit to a hiring program, a clear picture of the business needs and identification of “wow factor” talent to show what can be accomplished. It also helps to partner with job coaches from social service programs, do sensitivity training for managers and then introduce new hires just as the workplace would any other employee, he said.
The business network also honored Teresa Salinas, equal opportunity and affirmative action specialist at Cerner, as the organization’s volunteer of the year.