According to the US Department of Labor, the 2021 theme for National Disability Employment Awareness Month is, “America's Recovery: Powered by Inclusion.” As Americans recognize the many and varied contributions of people with disabilities to America’s workplaces and economy, leaders at Fifth Third Bank are celebrating 17 years of Project SEARCH, a transition-to-work program for people with disabilities, and hosting a variety of activities to honor the month.
“Employment has always been the cornerstone of the Bank’s commitment to Project SEARCH,” said Mitch Morgan, senior manager of inclusion and diversity at Fifth Third. “We recognized early on the positive contributions that people with disabilities make in the workforce, from the day-to-day functions of their jobs to the loyalty they bring to the organization.”
Fifth Third’s Project SEARCH program is a collective partnership of the Bank, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and multiple high schools, community partners and state vocational rehabilitation agencies. Each organization is an active partner in providing vocational training and employment for people with disabilities.
Project SEARCH operates at more than 625 sites worldwide. Last year alone, more than 4,400 students with intellectual and developmental disabilities received employability and job skills training, and, even in the face of a public health disaster, more than 2,100 of those achieved competitive employment in their communities.
At the 2021 annual Project SEARCH virtual conference, for which Fifth Third was the presenting sponsor, Project SEARCH recognized 107 program sites for achieving more than 70% employment outcomes in 2020.
“Even though we found ourselves in unusual circumstances due to the pandemic, Fifth Third Project SEARCH students forged ahead. We adapted so the students would still be able to build marketable skills that would help them compete for gainful employment,” Morgan said. “We are proud to partner with Project SEARCH and its partners and celebrate their resourcefulness and perseverance in these challenging times.”
In addition to serving as a Project SEARCH site, Fifth Third continues to be a leader in building pathways to employment for people with disabilities. In the second year of completing the Disability Equality Index, the Bank earned a score of 100 out of 100. The index is a benchmarking tool that offers U.S. businesses the opportunity to report on their disability inclusion policies and practices. It was developed by two national leaders, American Association of People with Disabilities and Disability:IN, in consultation with the appointed DEI Advisory Committee, a diverse group of experts in business, policy and disability advocacy.
Linda Maurer, business controls manager at Fifth Third said it is important for employers to recognize the significant value people with disabilities bring to the workplace. “We can work together to ensure people with disabilities are considered in new initiatives for customers, employees, and other stakeholders.”
Maurer leads a team that produces a quarterly disabilities awareness fair. The team invites business resource group members to virtually engage with representatives from agencies that serve people with disabilities. In 2021, the team hosted sessions about visual impairments, neurodiversity, maintaining an active lifestyle, depression, anxiety, and stress management.
This year, the IWD groups are engaging in the following activities:
- The Cincinnati BRG members hosted a virtual workshop with Haben Girma, the first deafblind woman to graduate from Harvard Law. Girma is a human rights lawyer advancing disability justice. In preparation for the workshop, some BRG members read her book, Haben Girma’s memoir Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law, which associated themes of inclusion, equity, disability awareness, intersectionality and belonging.
- The Northwestern OH BRG is supporting the ReelAbilities Film Festival, the largest festival in the US dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with different disabilities. The group will also attend post-screening discussions and other programs that are focused on bringing the community together to explore, discuss, embrace, and celebrate the diversity of people’s shared human experience.
- The Eastern MI BRG sent out e-mails every week with educational information to raise awareness about National Employees with Disabilities Awareness Month. They also hosted a lunch and learn with The Arc of Northwest Wayne County, an organization that has a mission of building inclusive communities through advocacy and support.
- Members of the North Florida BRG hosted a virtual information session with Canine Companions for Independence, a non-profit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs at no charge to the recipient. that is hosting an exclusive online event for North Florida 5/3 employees.
To learn more about Fifth Third’s inclusion and diversity efforts, please visit: www.53.com/diversity.