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The IAMCP Honors Autism Month: The Hidden Talent Pool

Posted By Aileen Provan, Tuesday, May 5, 2020

A D&I story that will give you fresh ideas on how to attract new talent


If you’ve ever been out of work, or have had a reduction in your client base that made it difficult to make ends meet, you know how stressful and demoralizing it can be.

If you’ve had that experience personally, you can probably relate to the plight of the many out-of-work people with a disability who face an additional barrier to finding work. Perception.

The perception that they might not be able to do the job.

According to BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics), 19.3% of people with a disability in the U.S. were employed in 2019. By contrast, the employment-population ratio for people without a disability was 66.3%.

Each April, the Autism Society of America celebrates National Autism Awareness Month to spread awareness, promote acceptance, and ignite change. The IAMCP is an organization that fosters diversity and inclusion (D&I) – and that’s why we’re sharing this story.

Another way of looking at things

Recently, during an IAMCP Chicago Chapter meeting held at the Microsoft office in Downers Grove, Illinois, our members heard a very different version of what employment reality could look like – and what’s in it for partners.


Joanne Callahan“Work is a fundamental human right. And there is a wealth of untapped skill sets and intelligence in our communities that companies are missing out on.”Joanne Callahan, the Working Together Chicago Program Director and an Occupational Therapist.

Joanne Callahan presented the IAMCP members in attendance at the chapter meeting with a viable talent sourcing alternative – one that even makes employee onboarding seamless and easy for the hiring organization.

Many questions were asked after Joanne’s presentation – perhaps you’ll have some of your own.



The program is run by Working Together Chicago (WTC), an organization that facilitates paid internship opportunities at local businesses throughout the Chicagoland area to help young adults with disabilities gain corporate experience.

WTC is a program of the Center for Independence through Conductive Education, an Illinois Not-for-Profit organization that helps those with physical disabilities to maximize their independence. The organization initially relied on the generosity of the Coleman Foundation, a Chicago-based grant-making group, to cover operational costs.  WTC continues to rely on corporate, private foundations, and personal donations for support, all which can be made on the WTC website.


How does it work?

Each employee is initially available for a 10-week paid internship, after which the employer has the option to retain the employee.

There are a number of steps to ensuring the right ‘fit’:

  • Each employee candidate is vetted for employability through the Illinois Department of Rehab Services, by establishing a “DRS” account, and working with a social services agency
  • Through the social services agency and WTC, employment opportunities are investigated
  • A meeting is held with the employer to establish needs and assess skills compatibility
  • WTC brings 2-3 candidates to interview for positions
  • Once the employer has made a selection, a Job Coach (for onboarding and staff education) and Mentor (for empowerment and job development) become a team, paired to support the employee throughout the internship period
  • WTC, along with the social services agency, work to support both the employee and the employer

“We take these rigorous steps to ensure a positive outcome for both the employer and the employee, and our team provides both parties with the support they need to succeed,” said Joanne. “Together we can do amazing things!”

And Joanne would know. At an early age, her own daughter, Mary Kate Callahan, contracted a virus that left her a paraplegic. Despite challenges finding suitable employment, she is now employed by a major player in the technology sector. Said Joanne, “Mary Kate’s only challenge is mobility. We are deeply grateful that her employer was able to see beyond the wheelchair to her skills and personality, giving her meaningful work and an opportunity to contribute.”

So, you don’t live in Chicago?

This initiative has been so successful that many other states are in discussion with WTC, and the organization has set a long-term goal of creating a national entity.

“We envision a world in which every different-abled person can work. People with disabilities are so worthy of employment, and together we can make this a reality.” – Joanne Callahan

IAMCP Members are encouraged to seek D&I opportunities such as this in their respective locations.





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