In 2001, Debra Ruh was dissatisfied with the drab job market that her teenage daughter Sara, who has Down's Syndrome, was facing after graduating high school. Ruh knew that her daughter could do much better than what was available to her at the time, so she decided to quit her IT job and follow her entrepreneurial instincts to launch TecAccess.
TecAccess is a Rockville, Virginia-based IT company that provides professional IT/Web accessibility and usability testing, consulting and training services to commercial, government, and educational organizations. Additionally, they find high-quality jobs for people with physical, emotional and intellectual disabilities.
TecAccess has hired more than 60 individuals with disabilities, from part-time employees and contractors to full-time accessibility experts. Not included in that number are the many people with disabilities whom they've placed in positions with private industry and government clients.
There are more opportunities today when it comes to employment choices for people with disabilities, according to Ruh. "Today's cutting- edge businesses and organizations are now realizing that people with disabilities represent and untapped workforce," she said. "As the workforce ages and labor and skill demands increase, employers are now looking for new ways to tap into all potential employees to remain competitive. At the same time, people with disabilities are still underemployed, so there is a clear dual need. Fortune 1000's are realizing that people with disabilities can fill this void and have thus started including people with disabilities in their diversity strategies."
Regardless of the advocacy and education to improve the public's awareness of disability, there are still a lot of misconceptions surrounding hiring people who are disabled, according to Ruh.
"Despite hard evidence that disproves disability myths, there are still some employers who mistakenly perceive people with disabilities as less productive and more costly than workers without disabilities," she said. "The fact of the matter is, though, that employees with disabilities time and time again have proven in countless studies that they can perform well, and many times outperform, coworkers without disabilities."
Ruh added that the creation of TecAccess is more meaningful to her that she can put into words. "We are proving and demonstrating, everyday that employees with disabilities can and do improve workplace morale, increase brand loyalty, create positive publicity, and increase retention rates," she said. "I have to say ,overall, I'm most proud of my daughter Sara, who recently joined me at a speaking event in Berlin, and is now traveling the world talking to audiences about the power of people with disabilities. Sara, along with the other associates at TecAccess, is driving the accessibility and disability employment initiatives what we see today across the world."
Like Ruh, Hal Honeyman drew inspiration for his business, Creative Mobility, from his son Jacob, who was born with cerebral palsy and cannot walk. Creative Mobility is a subsidiary of the Bike Rack, Honeyman's 35-year-old family-owned bike shop located in St. Charles, Ill.
Since he was a young teenager, cycling has been a huge part of Hal Honeyman's life. He even met wife Julie when she stopped in The Bike Rack before leaving on a European cycling trip. It was only natural for Honeyman to want to get the whole family involved in cycling. He felt very strongly that although Jacob was unable to walk, he should still be able to experience the joys of riding. When Jake was about 3-years-old, Honeyman purchased a specialized adaptive bike that had an upright seat and harness to hold him in, and pedal straps to keep his feet in place.
Because he was familiar with his son's own physical challenges, he started Creative Mobility to meet the mobility needs of others with disabilities.
According to Honeyman, he has found his true calling. "When Jacob was first born, I went through this phase where I questioned everything," he said.
"As I started to work with people with disabilities, and had such a positive impact on their lives, I realized maybe there was a bigger picture here than I was seeing. Especially when you have a situation where someone wasn’t born with his or her disability, but it results from an injury. These people go through a range of emotions and some even hit rock bottom and knowing that I am able to give them a little piece of their life back – mobility – is a pretty powerful motivator for me."
As he saw the demand for their programs greatly increase, Honeyman founded the nonprofit Project Mobility: Cycles for Life, Inc., as the charitable arm of Creative Mobility to "make a positive difference in the lives of children and adults with disabilities." The organization works with families, rehabilitation professionals, and groups to promote better health, independence, and most of all the freedom of mobility for people with physical disabilities.
Because the cycles aren't cheap and many of the families have been financially devastated by medical bills, Creative Mobility works with them to find organizations that will help them fund the bikes. They also list various funding sources on their website, thebikerack.com.
Honeyman is considered one of the country's leading authorities on adaptive cycling. His many years of experience and knowledge of various physical limitations of people with disabilities led him to design the Versa Trike, a special low-riding, three-wheeled model with an upright seat.
Honeyman and his staff travel to various events throughout the country each year to in order to bring the adaptive bike experience to people that might not otherwise get the opportunity.