Disability Summit sets sights on workplace inclusion


G-Jun Yam

The event included speakers, workshops and panel discussions about strategies on how to create a diverse workplace.


A partnership between the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Foundation and ADA 25 spawned the city’s first Disability Inclusion Opportunity Summit, held Nov. 16–17 at the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Building, 300 E. Randolph St. 

The summit featured teachings on strategies about how to include people with disabilities in the workplace and attracted about 300 attendees, according to Ann Kisting, executive director of CCCF. 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke during the first day of the summit, announcing the launch of Chicago’s first literacy task force to help decrease the educational reading gap of students with disabilities, according the Chicagoland Business

Leadership website. 

One in 10 Illinois residents live with a disability, according to the ADA 25 website. 

“Economic and educational empowerment for people with disabilities is the next frontier in the fight for equal access,”  Emanuel said in his address. “Today we have an unacceptable achievement gap of 43 percent in terms of reading proficiency between students with and without disabilities.”  

Several executives and government officials attended the summit as speakers, including Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Kyla McNally, managing director and corporate investment banker for JPMorgan Chase.

“I hope attendees walk away with the belief that disability inclusion is doable and important,”

Kisting said.

 The summit celebrated the progress of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which passed 25 years ago, according to Risa Rifkind, program coordinator for ADA 25 Chicago.

“While there has been great progress over the 25 years, there is still a lot left to do specifically in education and employment,” Rifkind said.

People talked during one of the panel discussions about their personal experiences with the hiring process and working with a disability. 

“It was a great showing of executive leadership talking about opportunities to include people with disabilities in the workforce and why it should be done,”

Rifkind said.

Gloria Cotton, senior partner with Inquest Consulting, an organization that develops diversity and inclusion 

strategies for its clients, said she attended the event to show support and  gain a deeper understanding of the obstacles people with disabilities overcome. 

“I’m hoping to [learn] how we as a society can attract and engage people with disabilities—disabilities that are visible and nonvisible,” Cotton said.

The summit featured panel discussions and breakout sessions, including a workshop called “Do the Right Thing,” which Cotton said opened her eyes to the experiences people with disabilities have to endure.

“What can we do to raise our awareness of what it must be like to be in the body, mind and heart of someone who just thinks differently than some of us?” Cotton said.

 Kisting said around 17 businesses registered to attend the summit, including Envision Unlimited, an organization that connects adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities with job opportunities in the city.  

According to Mary Jo Lamparski, chief advancement officer at Envision Unlimited, only 25 percent of people in the U.S. with intellectual and developmental disabilities are employed. She said it is challenging to get people to understand that her clients are able to do the work, and that when people are open-minded and work as a team, great work can

be achieved. 

“When people start to work alongside our clients, when the non-disabled work along [disabled] people, they see that there are capabilities that haven’t been tapped  yet,” Kisting said.

Kisting said that the inaugural summit was successful. 

“We plan to repeat this next year with robust additional programming,” Kisting said.