By Dustin Steinhoff, Staff Writer

Employers from around the St. Louis area were able to meet with a large number of organizations focused on helping those with disabilities or veteran status during the 2018 St. Louis ILG Reverse Career Fair that took place on April 18 at 9 a.m. in the Millenium Student Center.

The Reverse Career Fair was sponsored by the St. Louis Industry Liaison Group, and the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Federal Contract and Compliance Programs. Representatives from a variety of different community based organization (CBO’s) sat at booths around the walls of the Century Rooms, waiting to speak with employers about the importance of hiring people with disabilities or veteran status. Some of these CBO’s included UMSL Disability Access Services, UMSL Veteran and Military Services, Cornell University, Maryville University, Paraquad, Wells Fargo Advisors, and St. Patrick’s Center.

From 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., employers were able to meet with local, regional, and national CBO representatives. A CBO provides career services to those with disabilities and veterans. During a Lunch & Learn panel that took place from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m., accommodations and support for potential employees with veteran status and/or disabilities were discussed with local recruitment representatives and HR employees.

During the event, November Champion, the manager of Wells Fargo Advisors Online Accessibility Program, gave a presentation regarding the importance of making technologies accessible for people with disabilities.

Champion took to the podium and presented a PowerPoint titled “What HR Needs to Know About Web Accessibility” that she had created for the crowd of employers. Champion explained the various types of disabilities employees could have, which included visual, mobility, hearing, and cognitive disabilities. She also explained the common hurdles those with disabilities experience in the workplace when the technology used in the workplace does not accommodate to their circumstances. Champion went on to explain that workplaces should implement accessibility technologies so that employees with disabilities are able to better complete their tasks. According to Champion, while it is difficult to precisely pinpoint how much it costs to properly analyze how much it would cost a company to include accessibility technologies, it generally only increases the cost by around 10 percent. Champion also mentioned how employing employees with disabilities or veteran status makes it easier for inclusiveness to be weaved into the company culture.

“My job is to make sure everybody at my job thinks about people with disabilities when they are designing and building websites,” Champion said. “I think we all want to build a world where everyone is included. Website accessibility is one way to include people with disabilities that people do not often think of, but is so important because websites are a part of how we live our lives. We live our lives via social media and if social media is not accessible to people with disabilities, then they will feel isolated.”

People with disabilities who feel they are being discriminated against can contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), who were also in attendance at the Reverse Career Fair. Tonya Hauert, an investigator for the EEOC, explained the process that takes place within the agency when someone believes they are being discriminated against in the workplace. Once the EEOC receives a complaint, the employer is approached and they are given the option of fixing the situation, explaining their actions or denying discrimination took place. The EEOC has members called mediators who sit down with the employee and employer if they believe there is a misunderstanding that can be worked out.

“If I feel that the complaint does meet all of the requirements to be true discrimination, I let my supervisor know that there may be a violation. It will then be taken to our attorneys who will review it,” Hauert said.

Employers that are found to be guilty of discrimination are given fines and are required to have discrimination education lessons. However, Hauert says that one of the company’s biggest issues that can arise from discrimination in their workplace is when word gets out to the public and the company begins to lose money.

“We are not trying to keep businesses from making money,” Hauert said. “We just want everyone to have a fair chance to be a part of that process.”