On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily podcast, we have an incredible guest. Kate Brouse is the Strategic Partnerships Lead at NTI, a disability advocate, and we’re be talking about helping disabled Americans and their family caretakers find at-home or work-at-home jobs.
NTI, or National Telecommuting Institute, is a nonprofit dedicated to placing Americans with disabilities in work-at-home jobs since 1995. Recently, the organization has strived to increase their services within the community, opening doors to family caretakers.
Today, we’ll discuss how COVID (ironically) positioned NTI to help more people than ever before to find jobs and stay safe during the pandemic. And of course, we have a lot more on the table.
Listen to this wonderful podcast session, give us your thoughts, and make sure to spread the NTI word with your friends and colleagues. This is an important mission and very special organization.
Listening Time: 28 minutes
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Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you’re listening to the recruiting daily podcast. Today, we’re actually gonna be having taking on a really, really fun topic. I can’t wait.
We have Kate Brouse on, and make sure I pronounce your last name correctly, from NTI. And we’re gonna be talking about helping disabled Americans and their family caretakers find at-home or work-at-home jobs. Yeah, that’s a long title. But Kate and I went back and forth on this. And we really want to kind of get it right and get the subject matter right. And we’re going to have a fun conversation.
So Kate, without any further ado, will you introduce both yourself and also NTI?
Thank you. As you said, my name is Kate Brouse. I am a disability advocate, and I work for NTI. That stands for National Telecommuting Institute.
And we are a US nonprofit. We were founded in 1995 with the express mission of helping disabled Americans find at-home jobs. Our 25th year was actually 2020, and we wanted to do something at that point to increase our services to the disability community. And that’s when we also opened our doors to family caretakers. And then, ironically enough, COVID came along, and so we were perfectly positioned to help more people than ever before in the disability community find jobs and stay safe during COVID.
And as you said, William, you said, this is a really fun topic, I agree with you. But it’s also a very important topic.
100%. 100%. Because, you know, here’s the deal, everybody’s got, everybody’s connected to this.
Like, you know, we’ve talked about this with Parkinson’s and cancer; everyone, everyone has a family member, a friend, etc., that that has a disability, that they’re, they’re, you know, everybody has something that they’re overcoming, but, but, but when it comes to disabilities and work, everyone’s got something, everybody knows somebody.
So we, you know, I love how you framed that you’re a disabled advocate, we should all be or at least aspired to be disabled advocates. I, you know, and we should all be more helpful, which some of that comes to understanding. Like, you come, you gotta you know, you got to basically, you aspirationally, you have to then understand what’s really going on, which is why the topic is important, but also understanding how the topic changes.
And so I think one of the things I want to explore with you today is, you know, what do we learn? Or what did you learn from COVID? You know, for as you worked with, on both sides, with employers, and, and also employees, and maybe Even candidates, if you work with those folks, as well. But what did you learn from COVID, and, you know, work from home and remote work?
Here’s the really interesting thing that we maybe already knew at NTI, and that the disability community already knew, but that businesses finally have caught up to and understand now is that the reasonable accommodation of at-home work really is doable. And there’s, over the past 26 years of our history, for 25 of those, many times we would approach organizations about becoming an employer partner with NTI to provide those jobs to the disability community. And they would say something like, yeah, NTI, we think your mission is really great, and we strive to support the disability community, but that at home job? We can’t offer you that from our side in our vertical and organization and company.
And with COVID, most of those companies are now singing a different tune. And so whether people are getting a job through NTI or not, the reasonable accommodation of an at-home job is something that is now a reality, not only in this country but around the world.
And William, that to me is the most inspiring thing that, as a world, the world has learned about the, you know, that at-home job that we really can do it. We really can be successful, and we can have really good statistics, and we can be very productive in that environment.
Well, it’s, it’s, it’s, we had to prove it to ourselves, right? So we needed a global pandemic, to—
No, we didn’t. We really didn’t. And I don’t mean to interrupt you, but we didn’t need that. We just needed to open our minds.
Well, 100%, 100%. We didn’t need it. But one of the silver linings of that global pandemic is that we learned that most of, of, of the, what do some people say white-collar or knowledge worker jobs, they can be done remotely.
You know, that director of demand gen job, the marketing job, that, that doesn’t, you don’t have to have a cube next to the people that go to the place. And so, thankfully, the world has learned that. Now, it’ll be interesting to see how kind of post-COVID how people come back to work. And I say back to work, I mean really, I’m talking about back to headquarters or back to office locations.
But I really believe that candidates and employees, now that they know, the airs out of the bottle. Now that they know that they can do this work remotely, I’m not sure they want to do it. You know, some people will always want to go to the office, and that’s fine. And I just read a study the other day about fresh grads, and about how they want to go to an office because it’s their first job. So they want to get dressed up. They want to go to, you know, they’ve, they want to actually go to an office. That, that makes sense.
But by and large, most people want the flexibility of, yes, I can, or no I don’t have to. And I love the way that you phrase reasonable accommodation. I think that phrase, which is always, it’s been around in the disability community for for for years. But I think that’s now becoming more of a mainstream phrase, where other types of people are like, listen, I just, I want to, I want to telework. I want to, I want to, I want to work from home. I want to work from Idaho. I want to work from wherever. And if it’s outcomes-based work, it’s easier to be able to navigate that. And now that we have these other mechanisms, Slack and Monday and Zoom, and all these other things, it’s like, you know, you don’t have to be in the spot.
One of the things where we were going back and forth on the title and the topic is, we also want to talk about caregivers. So, so much of the discussion around diversity and inclusion is about the person itself, which is great. I’ve got no issues with that whatsoever. But one of the things I loved about when we were going back and forth and talking about it’s like, well, when you’re dealing with disabled, you’re also dealing with kind of a network, an ecosystem of people that help support and that are there for and help the people that are around them. And they also need a reasonable accommodation or potentially reasonable accommodation.
Tell us a little bit more about what you’re learning there.
That’s something that isn’t necessarily something that we are learning; we already knew that there was a need for this community. And NTI, it was a no-brainer for us because we had heard this request hundreds of times over the years.
We would have a mother that would call and say hi, you know, I have a child with a disability and I need to stay home, can you help me? Or we would hear, I have an aging parent with dementia, and I can’t leave them alone; could you help me? Or I’m caring for an uncle who is a disabled veteran. And all of those times we had to, you know, inside we’re crying and going no, we can’t help you. Because that’s not what our mission allowed us to do. But we changed our model, as I mentioned, in 2020 so that we can allow those family caretakers of the disabled to have that very same opportunity that we offer to the disability community.
And we offer free training and job services. So if you are a disabled American and you want that at-home job, or you’re that family caretaker, our services are 100% free to those communities, and we provide you free training. And once you have completed that training, then you are eligible for the jobs with our employer partners, which are fortune 500 companies that are hiring across the United States. So it really opens up the doors to new careers in customer service. And that’s what we try to help people understand, is that when you are disabled, and you find a job that works for you, it’s you are a lot less likely to job hop.
So, for example, if I’m working as a barista at my local coffee shop or Panera Bread, and I decide that I want a different job because Starbucks is offering 25 cents more an hour, or won’t make me work weekends or what have you, you’re going to say, Oh, that’s a no brainer, I’m going to leave one coffee barista position for something very similar, that’s, you know, within a couple of miles. But when you are looking for that at-home accommodation, and you find a good fit, you’re not as likely to job hop and move on. And what that does is that opens up career paths. And that’s something that we are really trying to help the disability community understand is that these aren’t just a job in customer service. It can be if that’s the way you want to look at it.
But for those who want it to turn into a career, it can, and COVID has made that at home that they can tap into to promote within the organization for other positions that are now able to be done remotely.
I love this. So one of the things I wanted to ask you is, is when you say this disability community, give me an idea because I, I was born legally blind. So I have an idea or an idea of at least, you know, the vision-related disabilities. But, but, you know, I’m, I would say oblivious to some degree about the spectrum of disabilities.
You’re blind to that spectrum?
I am blind. Pun intended.
That was. That was really. I couldn’t resist, William. Pun intended.
No. Pun intended. It was absolutely intended.
So, so that we educate the audience, when we, because you’re working with everybody. What, when you say disability community, give us some ideas, give us some real ideas of what that community looks like. The tapestry of that community looks like today.
Well, we follow the CDC guidelines to define a disability. But something that I personally brought to NTI and that I’m really proud of, and that now has become a focus at NTI, is many people, when you think of a disability, you think of seeing that person who has a spinal cord injury and needs to use a wheelchair for mobility, or somebody who was born with cerebral palsy and may walk with a limp, or things that are very visible.
But what I like to advocate for as much as that or even more is the term invisible disabilities. And that’s an increasingly large segment of the population. Invisible disabilities can range from anything from, like, Crohn’s disease or cancer that you might not be able to see visibly, to things like PTSD, anxiety, and depression, which are all very real disabilities.
I was gonna ask you about where does mental health play here.
Yes. Exactly. That is a disability. So if you have a diagnosis of anxiety or depression from your medical professional, and because of that you would benefit from having that at-home job, our services are free to you. And something that’s really great for the disability community, who may be listening to understand is that, for example, let’s say that one of our employer partners is Amazon, they have been in the past.
And let’s say that you want a job with Amazon. You can go to Amazon, and you can get that at-home job as a customer service agent. But if you come to NTI, you kind of skip the line. So you’re not having, competing against those 1000s of other resumes that people are sending to Amazon, you’re going directly to NTI, who goes directly to Amazon. And the reason that you get to skip the line is that once you’ve completed the training at NTI, our employer partners know that you already have the needed skills. They don’t have to hire you and then find out, oh, there’s a gap in your skills or your resume wasn’t actually accurate, or you don’t have the experience that you claimed you did.
We make sure that all of the t’s are crossed and all of the i’s are dotted before we connect the people who have completed our training with the jobs that our employer partners offer. And because of that, they kind of get to jump that line a little bit. So if you have any listeners who are looking for those jobs or are frustrated that they can’t seem to find what they’re looking for, completing our training, which is 100% free, opens up doors that otherwise wouldn’t be available.
I like that. I like that on a lot of levels. I love that we’ve got to invisibility and because again, I don’t think it takes anything away from what is visible, or nor should it, and what is known. Again, that’s great, but, but people, you know, they might not be upfront. Like Crohn’s is a great example. I have a good friend that has Crohn’s, but they don’t talk about it. You know, it’s very private, they’re very private, and you wouldn’t even know that they’re suffering as much as they’re suffering, because they just don’t talk about it.
Very true. And you know, you just said something, William, that I want to make sure that any listeners would understand. We are a national disability organization. But we don’t ask you to share your disability unless you want to. NTI is a completely safe workspace. I love my job here because I can bring my whole self to work.
Many of our team members at NTI have disabilities and share them and are, you know, everyone knows about it. But there are others who, maybe they have a disability, and they don’t know.
But the bottom line is that if you have a disability, you’re eligible for our services. If you want to disclose that, and to talk about it, and to have support for that, then we have that available, and we can connect you to others who also are looking for that support or who have similar disabilities. But if that’s something that you’re not comfortable sharing, we don’t ask, we don’t tell. And we just work with you to make sure that you get the services that are free to the disability community and have those opportunities for jobs and new careers that you can have from home.
I love that. I love that. I love that. I love that because, again, you’re not. You’re trying to help both the candidates, you’re trying to help the employers, and you’re trying to destigmatize a bunch of these things at the same time. Right? So as part of the education process, is also, you know, kind of taking some of the stereotypes, common stereotypes that have been around for a long time, and even some of the newer ones. And obliterating those.
If someone is, you know, let’s talk a little bit about TA and HR. If, if, if let’s just say a company hasn’t started down this path yet. And they’re maybe they’ve wanted to. Maybe they’ve had the best intentions, but they’re just not, they’re not, they haven’t been down this path. So they’ve not hired someone with either something visible, visible, or invisible. They’ve just not hired someone and gone through the accommodations phase. And, and really understood that. What’s? When you coach people like that, because you interact with, you know, companies all over, when you interact with folks that maybe haven’t started down this path, you’re not beating them over the head with a bunch of guilt. But, but you are trying to coach them like, hey, you know, let’s just get started with one. You know, how does that, how do you have that conversation with them? How do you kind of get them over the hump?
There, that’s, those are great questions. And let me address two parts of that.
Number one, when you’re an employer partner for NTI, that means that you have at-home positions available. And so the accommodation of the at-home job is really usually the only accommodation that people need. Because the reality is if you live with a disability, your home is very likely to already be set up for you to be comfortable in that environment.
And usually, the biggest accommodation that you need is just an employer who’s willing to let you work at home. And from time to time, there are people who need additional accommodations from, you know, some sort of screen enlarger or an ergonomic chair or such, but those are actually the exception rather than the rule. They’re always very reasonable commendations, and our HR team is very familiar with those.
If you’re talking about, you know, something that’s more brick and mortar and you’re looking to help people with disabilities, many people are really concerned that there are going to be crazy accommodations that are out there because sometimes you see those in the news. The thing to remember is that the news, they’re always looking for those stories that are going to make a splash, they’re always looking for the exception, not the rule.
As a rule, accommodations are less than $1,000, and there’s often additional community support. If you’re looking for somebody to work in your brick and mortar, you can often find organizations that support that disability either locally or nationally, that if as an organization, you are a small business and you can’t afford that, that will help you find that accommodation to hire that employee. So that’s the first thing that I like to let people be aware of.
The second is that the reality is and the research shows that companies who hire people with disabilities to promote a diverse and inclusive workforce see the benefits on the bottom line. They are more likely to have higher earnings and a happier workforce than otherwise.
And for any of your listeners who are interested, there was a report that was put out. I believe it was in 2017 by Accenture called Getting to Equal, and it’s all about that identical thing. About how hiring the disability community increases your profits. And although that’s not the reason that you want to do it, you want to do it because it’s the right thing to do. But it’s the right thing to do regardless, and the benefit that comes along with it is you are more likely to have a better profit margin.
And the other thing is that the disability community tends to be really cohesive, and they like to find employers and organizations that are understanding and inclusive. And if you show that your business, your company, your small cafe, whatever it is, if you can show that you are supportive and inclusive of the disability community, the disability community has money, and they spend that money with organizations and companies that they are comfortable with.
That’s right. As they should. As they should.
And that supports them. And so that’s another. Yes, that’s just one more thing that sometimes employers don’t understand. So if you are, you know, looking to increase your diversity, or your, you know, your footprint within your community to serve a larger population, having somebody with a disability on your staff, and letting that be known can sometimes draw in many more people within that community.
Love that. So one of the things I want to ask is about employee referrals and job ads. And really, like, how companies can enable, you know, their own employees possibly to help bring in more of the disability community. And, and the second part of this question is about job ads, you know, things that you see on Indeed, that, that we need to rethink and rethink through the lens of the disability community.
Wow, we could have a whole podcast just on both of those topics.
As far as employee referrals, I think the best thing you can do is just to let your employees know by word and action, that you are an inclusive company. You need to show it, it can’t just be words. You need to show that you’re inclusive. And today, more than ever, one of the things that companies need to do to show that they are inclusive and that they are willing to make accommodations, is just to make those accommodations across the board for everyone.
An incredible number of employees, the world over are now saying, hey, I need a better work-life balance. I want to work micro shifts, or I want to work split shifts, or I want to be able to choose and sign up for different shifts on different weeks and different days. Something as simple as that. And saying that, you know, this would enable you if you have a disability to work around your own schedule. So that’s something that if you’re looking to bring more people on board, and you want employee referrals within the disability community, you need to be an inclusive workforce.
You need to allow some sort of job accommodations that show that you are you know, standing behind what you believe. And as far as you know, being more intentional about the jobs that you are offering so that the disability community knows about them, I think, stating that, like when you have an Indeed ad, just stating it. You know, people with disabilities please apply. It can be as simple as that or is that saying that, you know, we are an inclusive workforce. Bring your whole self to work. If you’re uncomfortable actually using the word disability.
The interesting thing is, William, is that the disability community is so vast and like, sometimes when we know that there’s a certain community, whether it’s a culture, or a nationality, or a religion, or an area of the country, there are certain stereotypes that exist around certain groups, right? And they exist because people tend to lean that way. But within the disability community, that doesn’t hold true. Because disability includes people from every culture and nationality and religion, etc.
And so you really do have to be intentional when you’re trying to communicate, that you are being inclusive across the board and that you’re not just making one segment of that population that you have a stereotype feel included, but that you’re making everyone feel included. And you know what that does? By, by just, you know, a complete side effect of that, you become more inclusive across the board for every other group out there. Whether that’s LGBTQ or religion or nationality or immigrant status.
If you’re making that community welcome for the disability community, that means you are making it welcome for all those other communities as well. And I think that’s beautiful because it’s not necessarily true in the opposite. If you make your workforce and work environment a great place for one specific community, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is for the disability community. But the reverse is true.
If you make it really great for the disability community, you’ve made it great for every other minority community out there.
Oh, and you know what, it’s, it’s great because it works, as you said, it works both ways. So you’re trying to help the LGBTQ+ community, you know, there’s disabled folks there, as well. So you can look at it both ways and say, you know, what, you’re really truly, truly going after inclusion. And you got a voracious appetite for inclusion, well, you know what? Great. There’s a lot of ways to kind of go about this. So as we go out, one of the things I wanted to ask you is kind of your most recent, or your favorite work-from-home story.
My favorite work-from-home story?
It could be of recent because God only knows you have 1000s. But just, just something that we can leave the audience with that just, you know, this is this was life-changing.
I think just, I don’t think it’s one specific thing that I can pinpoint. It’s just the fact that NTI has grown more in the past 18 months than at any other point in our history, which means that there are more people working.
In the past 90 days, William, we’ve hired three new directors and many other new employees because we are serving an ever-growing population within the disability community. And I think that’s my favorite story.
That means that during COVID, we’re helping keep people safe. Yet, once this is over, and this pandemic is through, those at-home jobs are not going to go away. We’ve launched people on new career paths, and that’s life-changing.
When you have a disability and you say, wait a minute, I can work and not only kind of work, I can work from home and have a career. That’s great. And something that we do at NTI is we always kind of track the people that we are placing with our employer partners, and those that are rising the best and are the most stellar, we bring them internally.
And that’s how come we do so well at NTI because we offer those new careers, and we are literally that inclusive organization that we strive to teach others to be.
I love it. I love it. Great way to go out, as well. Thank you. Kate, thanks so much. I know you’re busy. I absolutely appreciate your time. And thank you for educating us and thanks to everyone for listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast.
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.