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Roundtable: People with Disabilities Are Helping Power Minnesota Businesses and Rebuild the State's Economy


St. Paul – Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Commissioner Steve Grove was joined by representatives from DEED’s State Services for the Blind and Vocational Rehabilitation Services along with employers and workers for a discussion on April 30 about the how people with disabilities represent an untapped talent pool for rebuilding the state’s economy.

This roundtable was part of a broader series of discussions the agency is hosting called “The Next Minnesota Economy,” focusing on inclusive economic growth, reskilling our labor market and creating good jobs.

Census data shows that one in four Minnesotans has a disability. Among people with disabilities, the unemployment rate rose from about 5% before the pandemic to around 13% after it began – and they spent an average of five weeks longer on unemployment insurance than others.

“People with disabilities bring many extraordinary abilities to the workplace , including problem-solving skills, unique analytical capabilities, and loyalty,” said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove. “As we grow the next chapter of our state’s economy, DEED is committed to helping employers take advantage of workers who are too often over-looked.”

Two people with disabilities took part in the panel discussion, talking about their experiences looking for work and getting hired.

“Whether you have a disability or not, there is always something you can and can’t do,” said Analise Tellez. “I walk with limp or a use a wheelchair. People automatically think, ‘She’s not going to be able to do the job.’”

Last September, Tellez was hired to work part time at a metro area child care center, and she was recently promoted. “Now I’m pretty much full time. I got my CPR training, and it’s going well,” she said. “My favorite part is just working with the kids.”

Catalina Martinez said she has been looking for work in accounting, finance or customer service. “When I disclose that I’m totally blind, that’s where the door shuts,” she said. “It’s very frustrating.” Asked what she wants employers to know, Martinez said, “That I am quite capable of working; that I’m a hard worker. And just to give me a chance and keep an open mind.”

A roundtable attendee offered to connect Martinez with someone at a company with a history of successfully hiring sight-impaired workers. “That would be wonderful,” said Martinez. “Thank you.”

Two employers who took part in the roundtable discussion agreed that good, open communication is key to successfully hiring and retaining people with disabilities.

“It comes down to communication,” said Nicole Clarke, human resources manager with HGA, an architecture, engineering and interior design firm in Minneapolis. “The pandemic has opened our eyes to a lot of things. I think managers have realized the word ‘accommodation’ is not a scary thing. It’s no different from what we do for any employee who is experiencing any issue, whether personal, physical or mental. It’s what we do to make sure our workforce is succeeding, is happy and is going to stay.”

“We’ve found success in changing our language [in job descriptions] and changing the thought process around what it really takes to do the job successfully and making sure that we are casting a wider net for applicants,” added Clarke. “Our impetus was equity training that we’ve been doing at HGA since 2015. It takes time, but we are getting a more diverse applicant pool and more diverse employees.”

“Every individual has a specific set of needs and experiences, and you really need to work with each individual on what works for them to accommodate their disability, what they need from you,” said Lori Kingston, interim senior human resource professional with Metropolitan State University. “And find out what they like to do independently and really don’t need your assistance with.”

Businesses that hire people with disabilities can improve their profitability by lowering their turnover, said Dacia VanAlstine, with DEED’s State Services for the Blind (SSB). “Studies have shown that bringing people with disabilities into your business also creates an inclusive environment that makes everybody feel welcome.”

DEED offers a wide range of programs and services for both career seekers with disabilities and for employers looking to access this talent pool.

“Sometimes the myth out there is that every person with a disability needs an accommodation,” said Marci Jasper, with DEED’s Vocational rehabilitation Services (VRS). “That isn’t true. Many folks can come in and just do the job without any extra accommodation.” Statistics show that over half of accommodations cost little or nothing – such as adjusting a work schedule or changing out a florescent lightbulb.

“If someone does need a bigger accommodation, there are many resources that can help. We direct employers to the Job Accommodation Network,” said Jasper. “One thing to remember is that a simple accommodation could really help you find a fabulous, dedicated employee.”

The roundtable was moderated by Alana Strickler, SSB. Other participants included DEED employees Natasha Jerde, SSB; Sara Wolf, VRS; Hannah Edwards, SSB; and two American Sign Language interpreters.

You can watch a recording of this roundtable on DEED’s YouTube page.

Visit for resources and assistance for:

Career seekers with disabilities

Employers seeking to hire people with disabilities

DEED is the state's principal economic development agency, promoting business recruitment, expansion and retention, workforce development, international trade and community development. For more details about the agency and its services, visit the DEED website or follow us on Twitter.


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