BOWLING GREEN STATE UNIVERSITY


Discussing the upcoming Public Best Practices Award presentation were (front row, left to right) BGSU’s Robert Cunningham, Leslie Fern and Yvonne Stoner with (back row) Brianne Clink and Isaac Demarest of the Governor’s Council on People with Disabilities.

Discussing the upcoming Public Best Practices Award presentation were (front row, left to right) BGSU's Robert Cunningham, Leslie Fern and Yvonne Stoner with (back row) Brianne Clink and Isaac Demarest of the Governor's Council on People with Disabilities.

State council to honor BGSU for employment of people with disabilities

The Governor’s Council on People with Disabilities has chosen BGSU as the winner of the Public Best Practices Award for 2008. The award is given to nonprofit institutions that implement “innovative and progressive methods of improving the quality of life for Ohio residents with disabilities,” the council says. “The agencies selected are considered a symbol of all who have significantly contributed to employment opportunities and community involvement for people with disabilities.”

The council examines issues affecting people with disabilities and advises the governor and General Assembly. Its most recent legislative effort looks at accessibility of hotels; House Bill 535, an education bill concerned with the cost of textbooks, provides special recognition of the needs of people with disabilities to have no- or low-cost electronic textbooks.

In June, council Vice Chair Isaac Demarest and member Brianne Clink visited campus to meet with Dr. Robert Cunningham, director of disability services; Leslie Fern, employee relations specialist, human resources; and Yvonne Stoner, associate director of the University Bookstore, in preparation for the official award ceremony Aug. 13 in Columbus. Gov. Ted Strickland will make the BGSU presentation, along with other awards to private businesses.

Among the criteria for the Public Best Practices Award are the percentage of employees who have disabilities and the level of their employment. “Many businesses and institutions employ people with disabilities, but only at entry levels. BGSU scored very high in both numbers and levels,” Demarest explained.

“People with disabilities are a vast untapped resource,” he said.

BGSU was nominated by Steve Michaluk, an employer services specialist with the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission (RSC), representing the northwest Ohio region. “For the past four years, I have worked with Bowling Green State University through several of their departments, including disability services, human resources and Student Financial Aid to enhance opportunities for employment of our RSC consumers. In all of the many contacts, I have been greeted with an open mind and attitude,” Michaluk wrote in his letter of nomination. The human resources office began by sending his office a list of available BGSU jobs, resulting in a number of people with disabilities being hired, he said.

Disability services promotes factors that help employees be successful, such as accommodation for people with disabilities, proactive employment practices, training and education for all employees on working with people with disabilities, and using technology to help employees with disabilities do their jobs more efficiently. Cunningham often collaborates with Michaluk.

“Future collaborative activities between the University and the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission include a mentoring/job shadowing activity to take place in October as part of Disability Employment Awareness month,” Michaluk said.

Through good practices providing accommodation and equal opportunity, the productivity of employees with disabilities can be boosted, Cunningham noted.

The University has a number of services for people with disabilities and is in the process of updating its Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations plan, he added. His office partners with community agencies such as the Ability Center, on architectural issues, and Behavioral Connections, for those with mental health issues. In addition, University areas such as admissions and financial aid each have a designated contact person, for example, to help smooth out problems for students, he said.

Last fall, disability services sponsored “Windmills” disability awareness training for a variety of areas from dining services and residence life to the bookstore. Aimed at dispelling myths and misperceptions about people with disabilities, the title was based on Cervantes’ story of Don Quixote, who was known for “tilting at windmills,” or taking on giants.

“All in all, BGSU is opening doors to job seekers with disabilities in a variety of ways due to the proactive efforts of both Leslie Fern … and Rob Cunningham,” Michaluk wrote. “In the future we look forward to expanding our network at BGSU to include more departments and many more employment opportunities for job seekers with disabilities in this growing northwest Ohio community.”

July 21, 2008