Community Connections Podcast | Episode 1 Transcript

Working with Disabilities

A community conversation with Disability Network Executive Director Jim Moore and Employment Specialist John Burtrum

Hello and Welcome. I'm Jim Moore, executive director of Disability Network Northern Michigan. With me today is John Burtrum, who is an Employment Specialist with Disability Network.

Welcome John

This summer marks the 31st anniversary of the signing of the American with Disabilities Act, the federal law that is intended to create a path for inclusion and employment for people with disabilities. While we have seen the needle move in terms of removing barriers in the structural environment, we have not seen much movement regarding more people with disabilities entering the workforce – why is that? 


One problem is that there are still seems to be a lot of myths about hiring people with disabilities – negative perceptions and preconceived notions about disabilities, employers can have concerns about adding people with disabilities on staff because of the unknown barrier or stigma of disabilities, or worries about accommodations, or that it will cost a business money or cause more problems in the workplace


Let's talk about some of those myths -- let's look at accommodations.


Accommodation is simply a means of levelling the playing field so that people with disabilities can do the same job as everyone else.  Companies may be worried about providing accommodation because they assume it will cost a lot of money or they will struggle to provide this.  It’s not the case Around 60% of accommodations have no cost, while other accommodations average only around $500 per person.  As employers, we ask our employees what they need for success. What can we provide you? For employees with disabilities, this is no difference, only some may require a different type of accommodation, such as flexible work hours or a small job restructure to allow them to perform the task.  Not considering accessing this pool of potential talent, especially when we are facing a significant labor shortage, I believe this is missing a needed opportunity


What about attitudinal barriers?  


There are many benefits of hiring PWD that are not well known, so it is good shine a light on those benefits to help break down negative perceptions that may get in the way. Studies have shown that companies that hire people with disabilities are seen to be more positive and also to perform better financially. People with disabilities also contribute to a diverse labor force and influence innovative thinking. It promotes an inclusive environment. From my experience they have a history of being great employees and are loyal with less turnover. Another valuable reason to seek hiring people with disabilities is that the employer is helping a local community member with a disability takes steps towards self-sufficiency through gainful employment.  Some are trying to achieve getting off their Social Security cash benefits by receiving their own earned income So, this is a win-win - people with disabilities who want to work are employed and it's good for business. They will not take the opportunity for granted.


what can companies do to if they are interested in hiring people with disabilities but do not know where to start? Or what about a person with a disability is thinking about employment but uncertain the next step.


A business can start by connecting to the local Michigan Rehabilitation Services office.  They work exclusively with companies and individuals to employ people with disabilities. If a business wishes to raise awareness about people with disabilities, we are happy to offer what we call a workshop on the decorum of people with disabilities.  This is useful not only for employers to better understand one another, but also for employees who work with the public.  If a person with a disability wishes to get a job or has questions about how work may affect their benefits, Disability Network is a good first stop.  We can help link this individual to opportunities and resources. I run the Ticket to Work program

Disability Network of Northern Michigan is a member of the American Dream Employment Network and can offer full employment network services under the Ticket to Work program. The Ticket to Work program is a Social Security Administration program that can help those receiving SSA benefits (SSDI and SSI) return to gainful employment with the assistance of an employment network.


How do people get ahold of you?


I can be reached by email at or by my work number at 231 633 6135. Please give me a  call and I can connect you with the resources or provide the services you are looking for.


Thank you, John. I appreciate you being with us today and talking about removing employment barriers for people with disabilities. I want to remind everybody to contact our organization you can go to and I want to thank everyone for listening today.

For More Information

John Burtrum is a certified work incentive practitioner and employment specialist for Disability Network of Northern Michigan in Traverse City. He is committed to the person-centered approach for program planning, support and services provided to people with disabilities. | 231 633 6135

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Disability Network Northern Michigan is the first stop for people with disabilities and their families in northern Michigan. Our mission is to promote personal empowerment and positive social change for people with disabilities. We educate and connect people with disabilities to resources while advocating for social change in an accessible and welcoming community. Disability Network is  providing services to customers and community members via phone, email and online. We welcome you to virtually join us for peer support and connection with our weekly Zoom online events. Please see our website event page for Zoom online event details!



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415 East Eighth Street
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Phone: (231) 922-0903

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