February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month.

It seems like people are starting to understand the value of hiring individuals with special needs. Take for example this remarkable story that aired on CBS Sunday Morning.

Since people with autism often have a hard time communicating, traditional interviews can be challenging. At Microsoft, an interview for candidates who are on the autism spectrum is far from the traditional question/answer session.

The new method Microsoft has implemented is one that meets those job seekers where they are. It focuses on the way someone works with others, on problem-solving skills, on creativity and on the person’s ability to complete the work. Not only is the new process effective, it’s fair. It levels the playing field for people who may have trouble expressing themselves verbally, but are more than qualified to do the job.

Companies that rely on just one technique for determining who should be hired are missing out. For people with special needs, many times it’s not the actual work that can be an issue, but the things that involve social skills, like knowing where to eat lunch and who to sit with. The buddy system that companies like Microsoft and SAP have put in place can make all the difference just by lending a helping hand.

Microsoft and the European software corporation SAP are putting their money where their mouths are. They’re not only talking about hiring people with disabilities, they are doing it and have made the changes necessary to accommodate the special needs community.

If you are thinking about hiring individuals who have diagnosed disabilities, here are some tips to help you become more inclusive:

Assess your workplace. What are the jobs that could be filled by someone with special needs?

Seek out opportunities to learn. Call a local Community Rehab Agency and find out if they can provide disability awareness training. The JCS Career Center offers this service.

• Learn about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities. In addition to the ‘feel good’ ones, like increasing company moral, there are also financial ones, like tax deductions.

Consider interviewing in non-traditional ways. Look at a visual portfolio. Ask the candidate to perform some of the job tasks that would be assigned.

Offer a job trial or working audition. This allows the potential candidate to feel comfortable in an office setting.

Ask for and accept assistance. Be open to job coaches coming onsite to support new employees and help ensure their success.

Familiarize yourself with federal policies. Visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy site for more information.

It’s easy talk about being inclusive. It’s another thing to actually do it. Questions about how to start? Jewish Community Services has a team of professionals who can guide you. JCS Employment Support Services are certified by Maryland’s Developmental Disabilities Administration, Division of Rehabilitation Services, and Behavioral Health Administration. Learn more at jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.

The JCS Career Center offers comprehensive services to help job seekers of all abilities and skill levels find and maintain employment and assists employers in hiring and sustaining a strong workforce. Learn more at jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.

Jamie Leboe is a career coach and vocational evaluator for the JCS Career Center.

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