Events, features and things to do for families in New Hampshire
By Eric Rossman
Stepping Stones presents stories about New Hampshire residents with developmental disabilities in all areas, which includes employment. When we find an organization, especially a private employer, that works toward the goal of respecting people with developmental disabilities, we are not only pleasantly surprised but we try to find out more about them.
RKM Research and Communications, Inc. of Portsmouth came to our attention through their selection as one of the winners of the 2011 New Hampshire Employment Leadership Awards.
Since 1997, RKM Research and Communications Inc. has provided a broad range of marketing research and public opinion polling services to the New Hampshire area. They employ approximately 40 people, 30 percent to 40 percent of whom identify themselves as having a disability.
Linda Corliss, director of Human Resources, explains that RKM’s philosophy is if a person has the desire and skills and is a good fit to work at the company they should be given the opportunity to do the work. Even though RKM doesn’t go out purposely to hire people with disabilities, they do give an employee who happens to have a disability every chance to succeed.
The owner of RKM, Kelly Myers, has maintained a policy that strives to treat every employee with respect, ensuring open communication between employees and supervisors. Open communication means all employees have the opportunity to tell the supervisor if they have a particular workplace need that is associated with a disability.
It is then the company’s responsibility to work with the employee to make the adjustment. This includes people who used the services of agencies such as Easter Seals or New Hampshire Vocational Rehabilitation to get a position or those employees who didn’t disclose their disability when they were hired but chose to do so after they started to work for RKM.
Linda said she is glad when a person with disabilities feels comfortable enough to come forward and tell her about their condition. She then asks: How can the company help in making the employee more successful at their job? The object is to make all employees feel like they are a valued employee even if they may need some sort of accommodation.
Recently, a man who was visually impaired applied for a call center operator position at RKM. Because the work required an employee to read questions from a computer screen, Linda didn’t think that this person could do the job. The man demonstrated a computer program that converted the questions into text that the computer would read aloud. Linda said the man got the job and became an exemplary worker.
Another man who was employed by RKM had an emotional disability. The man explained to Linda that under certain circumstances he gets very anxious. He has learned to reduce his anxiety by taking a break and going for a short walk. The decision was made that if the employee became anxious, he just needed to tell his direct team leader and he could take a break. Linda stated she didn’t worry about the employee taking advantage of this accommodation “because we hire adults; our workers are not children.”
The company makes every effort to give applicants opportunities to work at RKM. A woman applied to RKM with the support of Vocational Rehabilitation. During the interview process she stated that RKM wouldn’t hire her because she had no work experience.
The interviewer asked if the applicant had any experience working with the public. She answered that she had volunteered at the local community center and she had no problems interacting with people.
When the question came up about references, Linda said the applicant could use her supervisor at the community center. RKM makes every effort to find out if the potential employee has the necessary experience and skills rather than looking for an applicant who has a particular work history.
The company has found that offering support to a worker with a disability translates into a loyal and dependable work staff, which ultimately helps the company.
There have been failures in trying to hire people with disabilities. They have had employees who had a disability who don’t succeed after being hired by RKM. Linda explained the reason that these workers were let go had nothing to do with their disability but rather their level of maturity. RKM has taken on the tough job of saying to an employee with a disability they are being let go but it has nothing to do with their abilities but rather it is their lack of maturity and job responsibility.
The company works hard to treat the staff with a disability the same way they would treat any other employee.
They can be contacted at rkm-research.com/careers.html.
Eric Rossman is the project coordinator for the New Hampshire Council on Developmental Disabilities.