Image of signpost with four signs pointing in different directions. The four signs say “help,” “support,” “advice” and “guidance.”In today’s business world, immeasurable value is derived from peer-to-peer knowledge sharing. That’s why networking opportunities and business leadership circles are so crucial, and why business associations play such a vital role in facilitating knowledge sharing among members.

Your organization can take that role a step further by connecting member businesses with other business leaders who have successfully hired and benefited from employees with disabilities. After all, hearing first-hand experiences and satisfied testimonials from other respected business leaders can serve as a powerful endorsement for proactively pursuing disability diversity.

As a first step, a business association might recruit two to three members as disability employment “champions”—employers that have had successful experiences recruiting, hiring and advancing employees with disabilities—and then ask those individuals to serve as points of contact for others interested in learning more. During National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October (or any other opportune time), you could host a meet-and-greet event to connect member businesses with those champions, and with other disability-related service providers.

Other ideas include forming an advisory member committee, which functions much like an affinity group devoted to disability and diversity issues, or matching members with mentors who can help guide their disability inclusion efforts. Ultimately, the experiences of your designated champions can be featured in media and communications activities designed to raise awareness around the issue of disability employment.  As an example, the South Dakota Retailers Association has taken the step of creating a video about disability inclusion, in which its leadership expresses strong commitment and several members speak about their experiences employing people with disabilities.

Want to Learn More?
Once you enlist a business to serve as a disability employment champion, you can promote its experiences through events and proactive communications. Visit the following Steps to Success to learn more:

In Action

Several consortia involved in the Add Us In initiative leveraged the “business champion” model by encouraging seasoned local businesses to share their positive experiences related to disability employment. For instance, the Connecticut and Maryland consortia created Business Advisory Groups comprised of business champions with an interest in, knowledge of or expertise in disability employment. Further, the Connecticut Business Leadership Network enlisted one of its members, the Thomas Hooker Brewing Company, to host a “Best Practices and Brew Party” to encourage other local businesses to follow their lead on inclusive employment. And the business groups involved in the California Add Us In consortium recruited WriteAway Communications to appear in a promotional video documenting its positive experiences. “These businesses had great stories to share, and they wanted to shout it from the rooftops,” said Sam McClure, Vice President of Affiliate and External Relations at the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, a member of the California Add Us In consortium.