Researchers awarded $4.375 million grant to study best practices for hiring and retaining workers with disabilities

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Virginia Commonwealth University has received a new Rehabilitation Research and Training Center grant of $4.375 million to investigate the most successful business practices which companies utilize to hire and retain workers with disabilities.

The grant, from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research in the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services, will fund four studies, the largest and most significant of which will take place in partnership with Bon Secours Virginia Health System, a long term leader in diversity and hiring of persons with disabilities.

As part of the grant, VCU will partner with researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The principal investigator is Paul Wehman, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the VCU School of Medicine and in the Department of Counseling and Special Education in the VCU School of Education.

This is important as close to 60 percent of persons with disabilities remain unemployed in this country today.

"This new research center will allow us to work closely with businesses in Virginia and especially with Bon Secours to provide an intensive study of why businesses hire or do not hire persons with disabilities,” Wehman said. “This is important as close to 60 percent of persons with disabilities remain unemployed in this country today. Specifically, we will study what policies and practices are effective in hiring, training and retaining employees with disabilities for businesses at all levels of management … Multiple hospitals throughout the Bon Secours Virginia Health System will be deeply involved in helping inform these important questions."

“We are extremely pleased to partner with VCU on this very important endeavor as it furthers Bon Secours’ goal of building healthy communities. Workforce inclusion and diversity of all people is also paramount to the Bon Secours culture as it aligns with our mission, values and faith-based identity,” said Jim Godwin, vice president, human resources, Bon Secours Virginia Health System. “Understanding and incorporating diversity, to include ethnicity, language, religion, disability, gender, and so much more, into our workforce is critical in providing exceptional health care.” 

Another VCU research study will be conducted in Richmond and will involve working with up to 75 small, medium and large employers, a number of whom have already committed to participate, such as Conner Brothers Body ShopMango Salon and VCU Health. 

The purpose of this study will be to investigate in real time the decision making processes that front line supervisors go through when deciding to hire, retain or promote individuals with disabilities. The center will utilize trained rehabilitation specialists who work closely within the company to help understand the factors that influence these important personnel decisions.

Employers in the area will share their diversity policies, employer practices, accommodation process, factors that influence businesses to employ and retain workers with disabilities, as well as the characteristics of the businesses that employ individuals with significant disabilities.  

The grant began Oct. 1 and will run for five years. The studies’ results will be shared nationally and internationally through business trade meetings, journal articles, online trainings, conference presentations and social media.