Disability-inclusive workforce discussion comes to TACAW

Cook Inclusive Company works to make a disability-inclusive workforce in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Courtesy/Cook Inclusive Company

A panel discussing building a more disability-inclusive workforce in the Roaring Fork Valley will be on Wednesday. 

With staffing shortages, there might be more options than some employers are realizing to find employees. 

For National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the panel Equity Speaker Series: building a more disability-inclusive workforce, will be held at The Arts Campus at Willits at 6:30 p.m.

“This is when we can start to have those candid conversations about the worker shortage and how we can start to solve that with local people, specifically local people with disabilities,” said Kaleb Cook, the founder of Cook Inclusive.

Courtesy/Cook Inclusive Company

The event will begin with a conversation defining disabilities and how different disabilities may impact an individual’s employment opportunities, a news release by Cook Inclusive Company states. 

The panel will follow giving different perspectives from the community, representing people living with disabilities, businesses, government agencies and service providers. 

Members of the panel include Cook, also the chief executive officer of Cook Inclusive Company, Bryan Alvarez-Terrazas, deputy director and project manager at Manuas, and more. 

The panel will speak about the challenges and opportunities they have faced regarding accessing or providing employment. 

Businesses and community members will leave this session with a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges that individuals living with disabilities face when seeking employment, as well as available resources, the release states.

The idea is that anyone can walk into any door and have it be a disability affirming environment, Cook aid.  

Cook has been working to connect his students with employers throughout the valley to give both employers and employees an opportunity to try it out.

“We just actually hosted a disability inclusive coffee shop day, so our students took over the day and the Bluebird allowed us to have all of our students staff their facility,” Cook said. “It was really awesome.”  

Unemployment rates for people with disabilities are on average much higher than people who do not have disabilities in the United States, with the Department of Labor reporting unemployment rates for people with disabilities being 7.9% in August 2023, and the unemployment rate for people without disabilities being only 3.8%.

“I would say, there hasn’t been much awareness around this topic,” Cook said. “I think there have been some really amazing industry leaders really shifting that change already.”

Bluebird Cafe, Be Happy Candles, The ARC of the Central Mountains, The Aspen Skiing Company and Cook Inclusive are a few of the industry leaders making that shift.

People with disabilities are more likely to love their job and stay longer. It also helps the individuals get out, create a routine, enjoy after work recreation and allows people to contribute to something that they’re very passionate about, he said. 

The event is open to all, not just employers. There will also be American Sign Language and Spanish interpreters in a fully accessible venue.  

If you go…

What: Equity Speaker Series: building a more disability-inclusive workforce

When: doors at 5:30pm and show at 6:30pm

Where: TACAW, 400 Robinson St. in Basalt

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