Fifth Third Bank Celebrates National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Oct 29, 2020 10:05 AM ET

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a campaign that raises awareness about employment for people with disabilities and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. 

This year is the nation’s 75th observance of NDEAM, which is administered by the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. The observance culminates the department’s commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Through the month, members of the Individuals with Disabilities business resource groups across Fifth Third Bank are participating in a variety of activities that bring awareness to those with disabilities. Those activities include a virtual awareness fair to highlight various agencies that help people with disabilities; supporting a film fest drive-in series as part of the Over-the-Rhine International Film Festival, which celebrates the lives, stories and art of people who experience disabilities; and participating in virtual walks that shine a spotlight on health issues such as Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy. 

Mitch Morgan, a board member of Ohio’s Disablity:IN chapter and a vice president in the Bank’s Inclusion and Diversity department explains why it is important to acknowledge the month and celebrate employees with disabilities. “Employees with disabilities are such a critical part of the workforce and at Fifth Third we value each of our employees for who they are and their unique talents and abilities,” he said. “Their experiences and perspectives help make our Bank a Fifth Third better each and every day.” In its first year of completing the Disability Equality Index, a benchmarking tool that offers businesses the opportunity to report on their disability inclusion policies and practices, Fifth Third earned a score of 90 out of 100. 

Making It Personal

Brian Foster, assistant vice president and manager of a Fifth Third financial center in Toledo, is passionate about spreading awareness on this topic because of his son Andrew. (Brian is pictured above in a red shirt with his son.)

“Andrew is a 14-year-old who is on the autism spectrum,” Foster said. “He inspires me to share my experiences so that I can help others.”

Foster often tells what he calls “Andrew stories,” which share the joys and struggles of parents who have children with autism. He recently spoke on a panel for the Ohio Diversity Council’s second annual disABILITY Summit. The virtual event focused on accessible inclusion for all, and Foster highlighted his involvement in the Individuals with Disabilities Business Resource Group at Fifth Third.

“Andrew inspired me to help start the Individuals with Disabilities Business Resource Group in our region several years ago,” Foster said. “While we are a small group, I’d like to think we are helping others feel included and comfortable at work, despite any differences we have.” 

Among the service projects the BRG has undertaken in the area are building a ramp for the Ability Center for Greater Toledo and taking residents from the Sunshine Children’s Home for a day at the Toledo Zoo. 

“Our in-person projects have been on hold this year due to the pandemic,” he said, “so we’re focusing on building employees’ awareness of the resources and tools we have for allies of the individuals with disabilities community.” 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 61 million adults in the United States have a disability, making people with disabilities America’s largest minority group.

“Whether it is a customer, a community member or a co-worker, it’s essential that we treat each other with the Core Value of Be Respectful & Inclusive,” Foster said. “Sometimes we aren’t aware of what the correct etiquette is when interacting with individuals with disabilities. You don’t have to be afraid of not knowing the ‘right’ thing to say, though. Being honest and real is enough.”

The Bank has an Ally Toolkit – which includes tips for working and interacting with individuals with disabilities. 

Some of the tips in the toolkit include: 

  • Use people-first language: When referring to an individual with a disability, make reference to the person first, then the disability. 

  • Be personal. When talking to a person with a disability, look at and speak directly to that person, the way you would any other person. 

  • Respect boundaries. Do not touch a service animal or the person the animal assists without permission. Noises may distract the animal from doing its job. Understand that individuals who use adaptive equipment, such as a wheelchair or cane, view that equipment as an extension of themselves and should be treated as such. 

  • Be aware of those with invisible disabilities. If a person has a disability that is not obvious, it is not appropriate to inquire about their disability. 

Project SEARCH

Another way the Bank supports the employment of individuals with disabilities is through its Project SEARCH program, a one-year transition program for high school students with disabilities. It is a collaborative effort of employers, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, and multiple high schools, community partners and state vocational rehabilitation agencies. Through the program, created in Cincinnati in 1996, students with cognitive disabilities gain experience building transferable work skills. By providing training and education, interns use skills they learn for gainful employment upon graduating. The program at Fifth Third is run in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and at the Madisonville campus in Cincinnati.

Due to the pandemic, this year’s biggest fundraising event for the program – Tee Off for Project SEARCH – was canceled. In lieu of the event, Fifth Third donated $25,000 to support the program.

“All over the world, young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities face obstacles to achieving meaningful, fulfilling careers; Project SEARCH helps to overcome these obstacles by providing training in marketable and transferrable works skills to help young people with disabilities find competitive employment in their communities,” said Erin Riehle, founder and co-director of Project SEARCH. “Fifth Third Bank has been a cornerstone to the success of Project SEARCH. Because of the continued financial support, Fifth Third is helping to improve the lives of young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities throughout Ohio, across the country and abroad.” 

Since 2005, our Project SEARCH program has provided interactive learning opportunities to 352 students. Of those, 33 are now Bank employees and others have gainful employment at businesses in our communities. We’re proud to continue the program for this school year.

To learn more about Fifth Third’s diversity in the workplace, please visit the Bank’s workplace diversity page.