Hiring workers with disabilities touted as way to bridge employment gap
Award ceremonies are often an opportunity for winners to puff out their chests with pride, but Grafton-based Portal, Inc. celebrated October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month by recognizing local businesses that work behind the scenes to support its job placement efforts.
Portal is a not-for-profit agency that serves and trains teens and adults with developmental disabilities.
Its services are funded in part through the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation under the Department of Workforce Development.
Although the agency welcomes contract work from outside businesses, much of the training it provides is to make individuals with disabilities workforce ready.
The agency refers to the individuals it works with as candidates with “disAbilities” — emphasizing the things they can do rather than stressing the things they can’t.
According to the agency, more than 100 employers throughout Ozaukee County currently employ individuals who were referred to them by Portal.
The awards were presented during an employer appreciation luncheon, Oct. 20 at Bunker’s Restaurant at Edgewater Golf Course, located across Cedar Creek Road from Portal.
“This was a celebration and recognition of the local businesses that demonstrate diverse hiring practices to meet their employee needs,” Portal Executive Director Carole Stuebe said in a news release about the award program.
“It is the leadership of these local employers who create shared success by customizing jobs to match their business needs with the strengths and abilities of (Portal) job candidates.”
Stuebe said the special month “also recognizes the accomplishments of individuals with disabilities whose work strengthens the economy and ensures equal opportunities for all.”
Of the five companies earning honors, Production Plastics Corporation received the Outside the Box Award. The Saukville manufacturer is a division of E-S Plastic Production.
Organizers said the award recognizes the company’s willingness to hire an individual with an intellectual disability to work safely and effectively in a manufacturing environment.
Production Plastics also broke away from its practice of only having full-time employees when it agreed to hire a Portal referral on a part-time basis.
The award was accepted by Production Plastics representatives Cheri Banasiak and Gregg Pokorny, who was also the program’s featured speaker.
Production Plastics Plant Manager Rick Robinson said the company was honored by the award, but public accolades are not what draw it to partner with Portal.
“We are a small, injection-mold company that relies on punctuality and attention to detail from our employees, and that is exactly what we get from our people from Portal,” Robinson said.
“Once they are trained on our equipment, you know they will be punched in on the time clock precisely when we want them, every day. Our employees from Portal seem to appreciate rules in black and white — so they know exactly what is expected — and they enjoy the work.”
Robinson said he has been tapping Portal as a source for a reliable workforce for more than 25 years, both at Production Plastics as well as several other Ozaukee County companies.
“Once you change the corporate culture to eliminate coworkers looking down on people with disabilities, they have proven to be real assets to our company,” Robinson said.
Four Port Washington employers also received special recognition at the luncheon.
• Drew’s True Value Hardware received the Extra Mile Award.
• Port Washington High School received the Community Partnership Award.
• Dale and Bertie Mahal, former owners of Harry’s Restaurant, received the Make It Work Award.
• Sanfillipo’s Sentry Foods received the Above and Beyond Award.
Jeanne Neuberg, one of Portal’s employment service managers, said the agency’s focus on “bridging the gap to employment” is one way of tapping the often hidden potential of employees with disabilities.
“When local businesses open their doors for employment opportunities — whether it be exposure to different jobs through tours and job shadowing, temporary work experiences or by hiring — these businesses are helping to reduce barriers that exist for many people with disabilities,” Neuberg said.
She said local employers have learned what Portal staff members have long known.
“When given a chance and levels of expectations are raised, it is amazing what people of all abilities can do,” Neuberg said.