The Untapped Potential in "ConnectAbility"

December 1, 2015

The Untapped Potential in "ConnectAbility"

An estimated 11,000 people turn 65 each day in America according to the Pew Research C enter.1 As our workforce begins to retire and more directors and managers need to be sourced internally, it's crucial that organizations look at their succession management strategies in order to be prepared for workers who are likely to be different from both a generational and cultural standpoint. This applies not only to management, but also to every level of the organization. Thus, to stay relevant to the consumer in a shifting global marketplace, it is essential that a company adapt to these changes structurally as employees begin to retire.

One massively overlooked source for potential can be found in recent college grads with disabilities. More than ever, the ability for students with disabilities to not only operate, but in fact thrive in a university setting is not surprisingly translated well to the professional and corporate environment.  As our workforce begins to retire and sourcing talent becomes increasingly more challenging, it's important we look at fresh alternatives to the traditional train of thought on who can help run our organizations. According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 19.5 million, or about 9.9 percent of those ages 16-64 have a disability.2 Instead of looking at the required adaptation as a sunk cost, executives should be looking toward the competitive advantage of having a diverse workforce that can understand the needs of an ever-evolving consumer base.

This transition can help an organization recalibrate embedded processes to fit a new age of opportunity. Adaptation, while on some fronts may seem costly, will only serve to improve an organization over the long term if implemented correctly.

What Is "ConnectAbility"?

ConnectAbility is the ability for a company to seamlessly integrate individuals with the best talent, credentials, and skills to job roles that fit the needs of the organization's business strategy. Traditional human resource strategies of talent acquisition and outdated interview assessments often miss the potential of candidates. Businesses of all sizes are realizing the competitive advantage of adapting talent strategies and are creating new pathways  to understand the abilities of students and how to utilize them in various roles and capacities at their companies.

One company that has fully embraced ConnectAbility is PricewaterhouseCoopers. PwC connects the disabled with mentors that guide them with career goals. PwC also hosts workshops and events that encourage networking between university students and experts in the field. PwC has a Disability Strategy Council which is comprised of partners and key leaders that ensure that policies and tools within the organization work for everyone. PwC embraces the advantages of having a diverse, highly skilled workforce and understands that having an employee base who operates inclusively produces the best results. If we look at PwC 's strategy we see that instead of looking at the integration of employees with disabilities as a challenge, they instead look at it as an opportunity to field the best talent for the position.

Indeed, if we look at Fortune 500 CEOs we will also see that disabilities do not prevent one from being successful or bringing exceptional value to a company. Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, has dyslexia which has not stopped him from conceptualizing and creating a multibillion dollar, multitiered business. If we look closer we can draw correlating lines to the traditional methods of education and standardized methods of talent acquisition for a company, as Branson did very poorly on standardized tests but was highly intelligent and capable. If we stick to this standardized approach, we will miss out on tangible opportunities for human capital.

There are others, like Paul Orfalea, the founder and CEO of Kinkos for 30 years who not only speaks out about his disability, but also advocates for universal design principles and inclusion. Orfalea , who was diagnosed with ADHD and Dyslexia successfully developed Kinkos from a $5,000 loan to a multimillion dollar business with thousands of locations across the United States. Paul's charitable foundation, the Orfalea Foundation, concentrates on improving the quality of early education and changing teaching models so that all children are included in the learning process.

Leading employers can benefit by developing relationships with University Students and students with disabilities early on, in order to learn about their experiences, achievements, and their keen ability to bring fresh thinking to complex business challenges. Collaborating with University Career Centers can enhance your organization's recruitment models by building opportunities for leaders to meet with students on or off campus, participate in events, or support a company's effort to host off site mentoring at your corporate office. This not only benefits the students, but will prepare your organization to quickly onboard talented college graduates.

Helping students achieve their full potential is a crucial aspect of Duke University's student experience. According to Leigh Fickling, Duke's Executive Director of Disability Management Systems, "Our goal in DMS is to help students with qualified disabilities to gain access to the information, resources, and support systems here on campus and within the local community. Through our programs, peertopeer mentoring, and resources, we are able to work closely with students with disabilities, professors and their families to ensure that students increase their skills and are advocates for their educational experience. My goal is to empower them to achieve their full potential while they are at Duke. All of our students with disabilities graduate and go on to pursue advanced degrees.вЂ

One of those students, Jay Ruckelshaus, organized a National Disability Retreat in 2014 called “Beyond Disability, Beyond ComplianceвЂ. Ruckelshaus, who fell victim to a diving accident a year before attending Duke is a quadriplegic and leading national advocate for the advancement of the way we think about students with disabilities. Instead of concentrating solely on the traditional issues of compliance, he instead opened the conversation to a larger talk of campus culture and the unique experience of higher education for someone with a disability. He has created a national talk about how we view those with disabilities and how we can design learning, products and environments to be usable by all people. The ideas of universal design and inclusion do not only aid the disabled, but create a stronger community overall.

Universal design is not specific to Duke University, either. The University of Arizona implements universal design principles into all aspects of construction on their campus. The idea is to design things so that everyone can use them to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. This proactive approach of architecture is meant to reduce or eliminate the need for individual accommodations and increase the level of inclusion and participation of all users. These concepts are crucial in improving the ability for those with a disability to contribute, learn and thrive in the group.

Company's methods need to adapt in order to harness the potential of a totally inclusive and diverse workplace. As a new generation begins to lead corporations and make impactful financial decisions, it's important that we are pulling from the largest and brightest talent pool possible. Inclusion has historically aided companies in not only maintaining a healthier, more diverse, and educated workforce, but also in giving the unique perspectives and views that are needed in an organization to appeal to every consumer. Before we select the second or third best option, let's change the way we look at hiring, engage potential candidates, and connect the unique talents, experiences, and skills that are gained from being a university student with a disability.



1 Cohn, D'vera , and Paul Taylor. "Baby Boomers Approach 65 – Glumly." Pew Research Centers Social Demographic Trends Project RSS. Pew Research Center, Dec. 20, 2010 . Accessed Sept.. 9,  2015 .

2 "Disability Among the Working Age Population: 2008 and 2009." C The United States Census Bureau, Sept. 1, 2010 . Accessed Sept. 9, 2015.

"Richard Branson Biography." A &E Networks Television. Accessed Sept. 9, 2015.

Dudash, April. "Duke to Host National Disability Retreat.." Duke Today. Duke University. Accessed Sept. 9, 2015..

The Authors: 

Judy White, SPHR, GPHR, HCS, SPHR-SCP, is the founder of The Infusion Group which helps create new workplace possibilities in a new world of work to achieve strategic growth and elevate business performance. She can be reached at or on Twitter: @InfusionGrpLLC