It all starts with Turnstone and “the talk.”
“We want the business community to realize that we’re not just a resource for people with disabilities. We are also a resource for the business community in terms of how they open the workforce to people with disabilities,” says Stasha Carrasquillo, chief marketing technology officer for Turnstone Center. “The catalyst behind this conversation is, over the last few years, we’ve been increasingly approached by community leaders, local businesses and organizations asking for our input when it comes to accessibility and working with people who have disabilities. We know that diversity has become much more of a strategic and critical conversation, and disability is certainly a part of that diversity conversation.”
The new service offering addresses ADA accessibility and inclusive cultures through a two-step process for businesses: An initial assessment and an action plan. The ADA accessibility assessment provides
compliance information as well as expanded best practice recommendations.
Turnstone is also developing a separate inclusive culture assessment thanks to funding from the Don Wood Foundation. This assessment will provide insights to companies about the inclusivity of their workplace culture, and areas in which they can invest more efforts to support disability inclusion and belonging in their organization. The Don Wood Foundation is committed to growing and strengthening the manufacturing sector in the Midwest region by aligning opportunities between students, community and industry.
“We were interested in investing in Turnstone because the program we co-funded has a unique approach. It gives employers the tools necessary to successfully employ traditionally underserved populations so they can thrive in careers in advanced manufacturing,” says Patrick Buesching, director of strategic initiatives for the Don Wood Foundation.
“We are not an enforcement agency, so there’s nothing we would require of businesses,” says Carrasquillo. “Instead, we give them information about where they are at today and then the action plan we offer gives them suggestions on how to meet compliance expectations, and raise the bar for how their company supports disability and diversity.”
Tina Acosta is the director of outreach and a certified ADA coordinator for Turnstone. She is also one of just two people in the state of Indiana who have undergone advanced training through the Great Lakes ADA Center, offering expanded training services and expertise on the ADA and disability topics.
“I am able to support and educate businesses about the ADA,” says Acosta. “I can help businesses identify where changes are needed and can provide resources to make that happen. It fits very well with our vision: All people will live, work, learn and play in a community based on our abilities and not our disabilities.”
Acosta says there is an extensive amount of public information on inclusivity in the workforce for people with disabilities, but most people don’t know how to start or where to find it. She has also discovered a lot of misconceptions when it comes to this topic.
“Employers are often concerned about the cost involved with hiring and employing someone with disabilities. We know that the average cost of providing adaptations or ensuring accessibility is $500 or less. If you’re not already engaging with disabilities in your workforce, our services are for you because you could be missing out on your next great hire.”
Turnstone CEO Mike Mushett says the timing of this new initiative is perfect, given the current business climate locally and nationally.
“In talking to the business community, across the board, everyone has needs and shortages in their workforce. It’s really opened up opportunities as well as the conversation — recognizing that people with disabilities can play a much broader role in the employment process. Just through word of mouth, we’ve had a number of companies reach out to us that are interested in working with us on fine-tuning this process.”
“It’s important for us to emphasize that we are not the experts on everything disability,” says Acosta. “But we have a lot of really great partners, resources, and experience that we want to put to use to better empower our business community and really take advantage of the hidden workforce that’s waiting for them.”
One of those great partners is Fort Wayne Metals.
“We are excited to partner with Turnstone on this critical initiative,” says Evan Wood, vice president, People & Strategy. “It’s important to Fort Wayne Metals that we have a welcoming, inclusive workplace for people of all abilities. We recognize that our desire and intentions are not enough, and we desire to identify opportunities to continuously improve our workplaces and processes to be an employer of choice for people with disabilities. This is important for so many reasons, but one reason is that inclusive design of work makes work better for everyone.”
With this formal service in its early stages, Turnstone is hoping business and community leaders will give it serious consideration and not be afraid to start talking about it.
“It’s not that employers need to overhaul their job descriptions or expect less from potential candidates,” says Acosta. “We’re simply asking employers to be flexible and willing to look at things differently. When it comes to getting a job done, we often think of it being done one particular way. For someone with disabilities, they often have to be creative because they live in a world that has a lot of daily barriers already imposed on them. It helps to be willing to join them in thinking outside of the box when it comes to accomplishing a task.”
Mushett says the kinds of positions open to people with disabilities range from introductory level to light manufacturing to a multitude of careers.
“We’re not saying that a person with a disability is suited for every position in a company, but that goes for all of us. When you put aptitude, skill set, interest and capabilities together, it sorts itself out as far as the type of positions that work well for an individual.”
“There aren’t many other services out there providing these kinds of disability inclusion resources in a really consumable process. We want to streamline these efforts because we know people with disabilities want to work. They want careers, they want jobs and they want to engage in our community,” says Carrasquillo. “Businesses in our community need employees, so this is a great match. I think some companies just need resources to take advantage of that. Diversity in the workforce is better for everyone and disability is part of diversity. It’s a win-win for all.”
General Manager: CEO: Mike Mushett
Address: 3320 N. Clinton St., Fort Wayne, Indiana 46805
Phone: (260) 483-2100
Products & Services: Turnstone is northeast Indiana’s only free-standing nonprofit organization providing a comprehensive continuum of support services addressing the unique needs of people with physical, visual, neurological and developmental disabilities and their families.