“Diversity” is commonly attributed to those from different racial, sexual and religious backgrounds, but New Editions Consulting, Inc. has broadened the buzzword’s meaning to include employing people with disabilities so much that the Falls Church-based government contractor was recognized for its commitment.
The National Organization on Disability (NOD) recently announced that New Editions is among 59 organizations nationwide to be named a 2019 NOD Leading Disability Employer, according to a press statement from New Editions released this week.
Founder and president Sheila Newman, who has spent 35 years both advocating and working to enrich the lives of people with disabilities, believes that extended time assisting this population helps remove some of the stigmatized judgment companies less familiar with that workforce may have. That discriminatory view contributes to the gap in employment between able-bodied workers and people with disabilities.
“We’ve had a number of people get their start here at New Editions because we didn’t have the bias other workplaces may have. Some have even moved on to new companies, with four or five of former employees who have disabilities now working for the federal government,” Newman said. “I value the contribution of every employee. The diversity is what makes us a good company; and not just the people with disabilities, but all the diversity we have. We’re like a little microcosm of the world with only 65 employees.”
Of those 65 who work for Newman at New Editions, she states that 20 percent of her employees qualify as having a disability. This ranges from physical disabilities such as one employee who uses a wheelchair to get around or another who is blind, to more complex disabilities such as cerebral palsy that one help desk worker on a contract with the Department of Homeland Security has.
Newman needs to ensure that each employee who does have a disability receives the proper accommodations to do their jobs. So, for her employees in the wheelchair that means allowing them to use a table instead of a conventional desk in their workspace. And for the blind employee, it means purchasing the screen reader program called “JAWS” so the employee can interact with the computer in a manner that is conducive to them.
These adjustments aren’t excessive compared to the demands able-bodied new hires make, according to Newman. For example, a potential new hire may work more efficiently with a different software platform. The difference between the money Newman spends purchasing the new software and the accommodations she might invest in for an employee with a disability is negligible.
However, working at New Editions is no act of charity. All employees are required to have a college degree. And even though some employees do have a disability, that doesn’t mean the company is lowering its expectations for them while on the clock. Newman notes that while employees with disabilities may appear to have unorthodox work methods, it doesn’t affect their productivity — and consumers reward that act of goodwill that employers take.
“That’s what I’m trying to show is not true. People with disabilities are just like you and me, they can do their job. They might do it a different way, but they will adapt and do what they need to,” Newman said, while adding, “Research shows that if a company is good to their employees and hires people with disabilities, consumers will tend to purchase from that company.”
One case is when Newman had a blind employee that she wanted to put on a Department of Transportation contract. When the client asked how the employee would be able to do their job, Newman simply replied, “I’m not sure, why don’t you ask them?” The client took up Newman’s suggestion and wound up hiring the blind employee. The employee would go on to win an award for being one of the top contractors for the DOT.
Another instance was when a programmer, who is legally blind, was applying to work with New Editions. The job candidate had been turned down at other companies simply because the interviewers weren’t sure how the candidate would be able to do the work (nor did they ask to find out, as Newman recalled). During a programming test at New Editions, Newman’s team clearly determined that the legally blind candidate was the best. That person worked for New Editions for 12 years prior to leaving for a new job recently.
Newman also guides other organizations to be more inclusive with their workplace practices. That includes a contract with the Department of Education where New Editions helps conduct an annual report on how well states are meeting their obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and reporting to Congress about its findings. There’s also the company’s work with USAID in directing disability related funds to developing countries as well as its contract with the centers for Medicaid services where New Editions will get people out of institutions and into accessible housing in the community to live the independent lives they’re capable of.
New Editions also runs a database, AbleData, that lists 500,000 assistive technology products — from reachers for older people to wheelchairs and toys for children with disabilities to help them with their cognition and their dexterity.
Its offices are located at Washington and Broad and Sheila Newman is also on the board of directors of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce.