KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Over the last few months, KSHB 41 has spotlighted various organizations that serve the disability community in the metro, like the Golden Scoop and Pawsabilities, as well as Down Syndrome Innovations and Ability KC. That spotlight now shifts to a new company that helps those with disabilities find jobs.
Jim Atwater played tennis in college but had to transfer, as a result of a hearing impairment that required the installation of cochlear implants.
“They wouldn't waive the foreign language requirement. There's just no way to do it for an individual with a hearing impairment,” Atwater said.
He then set his sights on becoming a doctor.
“They basically told me to my face, all those doctors are not going to repeat themselves to you. And I didn't get into medical school,” Atwater explained.
That was a few decades ago before the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law.
Fast forward to 2021, and there’s been progress. Social programs and organizations help to fill the void, but there’s still a narrow point of entry to long-term employment for the disability community.
“They can know about them, but they cannot see the value of them. What the businesses need to understand is in order to see this value, they have to start interacting with these populations,” Atwater said.
It’s a population that is underrepresented in the labor force, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
That's where InReturn Strategies comes in. It's a company led by Atwater that works with and connects the private and social sectors.
“We are working on personal assessments with each of our employees. So it's not just coming in and scooping ice cream, it is really making sure that they are set up for success. It's learning job interview skills, it's learning, you know, what it takes to be a good employee,” explained Anne Geisler, the Golden Scoop’s director of development.
She said an organization like hers is a just stepping stone, with a workforce of 20 and a waitlist of 35.
“Everyone deserves meaningful and important work and not just, you know, punching a time clock, but it is truly, we are about creating meaningful work,” Geisler said.
On the private sector side of the InReturn relationship, Lead Bank in Kansas City is working with the company to create a more inclusive workforce.
“We have to really bring in all of the skill sets, all of the aptitudes, and all of the potentials of the communities that we that we're part of. It's part of our mission,” said Lead Bank CEO Josh Rowland.
He’s focused on a future of equitable employment for the disability community.
“It’s not even an option. It's a responsibility of a bank, to look for ways to be deeply meaningfully inclusive at the employee level, as well as at the customer level,” Rowland said.
Both private and social sector leaders say a long-term and deep structural and cultural adjustment is needed but on the horizon, with InReturn Strategies serving as a resource to achieve that goal.
“Every opportunity reaches every person, every person can participate and contribute to those opportunities,” Atwater said.
Along with Lead Bank, InReturn is also working locally with Lockton and North Kansas City Hospital on closing the disability employment gap.
They want to connect with other local companies to further that mission, so for those looking for work and solutions, there’s already tangible progress being made.
For more information on InReturn Strategies, visit their website.