Pitt, United Way Job Partnership for Adults With Disabilities

Issue Date: 
September 14, 2015

The University of Pittsburgh has partnered with the United Way to identify opportunities for adults with disabilities to work for the University. 

There is a large employment gap for people with physical or mental impairments. For instance, about 70% of those with vision impairment have a post-secondary education, but only about 30% are employed.

Seeking to address that gap and to tap an underutilized pool of local talent, Pitt has joined the Career Transition project. The program is part of the United Way of Allegheny County, now part of United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s 21 and Able program, which supports young people with disabilities who, at 21 years old, “age out” of their support system and services but often don’t have jobs. 

United Way launched a two-year Career Transition pilot in 2013, partnering with local grocery store chain Giant Eagle and Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh. United Way then received a $378,000 grant from the Kessler Foundation to continue the project and expand it to include three to five additional employers in the area. Following Giant Eagle’s initial commitment,Pitt is the first of these employers—and the first university—to sign on.

“We look at diversity in many ways, and this is one facet of it,” says Ronald Frisch, Pitt’s associate vice chancellor of human resources. “This program provides the University with a great initiative for us to expand our employment capabilities and enhance the entire community for everybody. This venture affords us significant potential and a phenomenal community partnership.” 

There are many advantages to employing individuals who have disabilities, including a higher job-retention rate. Part of what makes Career Transition unique is that it dedicates a staff person to recruiting individuals and matching them to opportunities, notes Michelle Fullem, Pitt’s director of recruiting, Office of Human Resources. 

Jeremy GilchristAt Pitt, that person is Jeremy Gilchrist, a recruiter in the Office of Human Resources who works with organizations in the community, including  those in education and nonprofits, that can identify work-ready candidates. The Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, which has acted as a key partner in the venture, also refers job seekers to Gilchrist. He meets individually with candidates to discuss their interests and talents, and then provides that information to Pitt’s human resources/recruiting team. In addition to trying to match contacts with current job openings, Gilchrist is building a list of potential candidates for future job openings. He continues to work for Blind & Vision Rehabilitation Services, but through the efforts of United Way and the Kessler grant, his office is now located on Pitt’s campus in Oakland.

Gilchrist, a Pitt graduate, says that job seekers’ qualifications and job interests have run the gamut. Interviewees’ education levels range from high school and college graduates to PhDs and medical doctors. Employment interests have included job titles like lab technician, admissions counselor, facilities/grounds keeper, disability advocate, animal husbandry specialist, faculty, staff, and administrative assistant.

In addition to recruiting, another key part of Gilchrist’s job is to assist both employees and employers with guidance and resources. Gilchrist can work with the departments to provide any necessary accommodations and to lay the groundwork for a successful job performance. 

“The biggest fear is what if the person isn’t able to do the job? But the whole point is to hire someone who is qualified,” says Gilchrist. “I am here to guide our supervisors to establish what may be called a ‘ reasonable accommodation,’ enabling our new colleagues with disabilities to work successfully in most, if not all, environments.”

Most accommodations are not as extensive as people often think, he says. Sometimes, simply providing a specialized computer monitor or rearranging a workspace to make it wheelchair accessible is all that’s required. If necessary, resources are available to provide and pay for most essential accommodations. 

Gilchrist says that one of the best parts of his job is representing the University of Pittsburgh.

“I’m having fun and meeting some really amazing people,” he says. “People in the community are excited because Pitt is a great place to work.”