This weekly feature offers questions answered by newsworthy business leaders. James M. Heller is president of the Maryland Corporate Partnership, an organization that helps employers find qualified disabled individuals to fill job vacancies. He was interviewed by staff writer Michelle Singletary.
Q. Maryland Corporate Partnership claims it can make it simple and profitable for employers to hire individuals with disabilities. Is this why the organization was formed?
A. Yes. We developed this for an outreach program for a group of CEOs that the governor had asked to spread the word on hiring persons with disabilities. Basically, what we did was develop a business-to-business approach showing corporations that it does make good business sense to hire persons with disabilities, getting away from the traditional philanthropic approach.
Q. When was the organization formed?
A. We started looking at it as a pilot program, as a quasi-state agency, in November of 1988. We incorporated it as a private business in August 1989.
Q. How are workers found for employers?
A. What we've done is amassed what we call our agency partners. Originally we thought there were 50 agencies in the state that provided services to people with disabilities [and were] oriented toward job placement. We found that there were 216. One hundred thirty-four of those have filled out our applications, and we designed a data bank that cross-references their ability to supply people with the needs of the corporate world.
Q. On that same note, how is the corporation different from other state or private organizations that service people with disabilities?
A. Well, we are a business-oriented corporation. We do not use the philanthropic approach. We are ability activists as opposed to disability activists. Our approach is not, "Can't you please create a job for this individual?" Our approach is that these individuals have capabilities and we want to show you how to use them.
Q. Before we go any further, can you tell me the type of individuals that you do service with disabilities? What type of disabilities do they have?
A. We like to say we service total disabilities, total capabilities. Disabilities, if you use the Americans With Disabilities Act, can range from something like diabetes to severely mentally challenged individuals in wheelchairs.
Q. Are the jobs especially created for the disabled individual?
A. No! It is one of the things that we insist from our corporate partners, and we're now servicing in excess of 600 corporations. We do not want special treatment. What we will do is show them how to creatively restructure jobs so that they can use individuals [with disabilities].
Q. Can you give me an example?
A. Let me give you an example of a program that we're really excited about, that we set up through Union Memorial Hospital. They had a need to pre-screen scheduled surgery patients. Well, we looked at the opportunity of doing this with home-based individuals. These are people who need to stay at home to work. What we did was set up a program with them where we have home-based individuals who are extremely computer-literate who do the screening of their surgical patients. When the surgical patients come into the hospital, 95 percent of the paper work is done. The hospital staff can do what they do best. It just streamlines the whole process.
The nice thing about it is that the paperwork is cut down considerably. It's all by electronic mail via computer and modem. And another nice thing is that the individuals working at home can contact people on off hours where you would traditionally be paying somebody overtime to do that type of thing. That's one application. An individual might have mobility limitations. So we will work with the manager in that area to compensate for those restrictions. And it can be something as simple as showing them how to reorganize their filing system so that a person in a chair can use it.
Q. Are these ideas that the corporation comes up with along with the employer?
L A. These are ideas that Maryland Corporate Partnership comes
up with. We look at the opportunity and situation within the corporate world. We then look at the abilities that we have that fit that particular job description, and we then creatively come up with a solution so that the corporation does not have to become the expert in the disability field.
Q. Are the jobs that the partnership helps find for the individuals minimum-wage jobs?
A. Absolutely not. One thing that we insist on is that this is not a cheap-labor group. We've placed lawyers, we've placed Ph.D.'s in research, right on down to entry-level jobs. Now, of course, the majority of the jobs are on the entry level, but most of them are geared toward the service industry. The technology, the data-entry individual, for instance, as opposed to the janitor. We've placed people in minimum wage to the highest documented wage that I am aware of, is in the $75,000 range.
Q. Where does the partnership get its funding?