For Colleen Starkloff and her husband Max, advocating for people with disabilities has always been about helping them gain independence. When they founded Paraquad in St. Louis 45 years ago, their goal was to enable people with disabilities to live independently.
These days, Colleen Starkloff's work at the Starkloff Disability Institute (SDI) centers on a different kind of independence for people with disabilities – economic independence. As co-directors of SDI, Starkloff and David Newburger work with employers and job-seekers to help bridge the unemployment gap through their Next Step program.
According to Starkloff and Newburger, only 20 percent of working age people with disabilities have jobs.
Part of what the Next Big Step program at SDI does is train employers how to hire and work with people with all sorts of disabilities.
SDI has been working with St. Louis-based Centene Corporation since the institute was formed ten years ago. It was a natural fit, said Starkloff, since Centene provides Medicaid services and works with many clients who are disabled.
These days many of Centene's employees are also disabled, and the company works as a role model for SDI.
"We believe there is an untapped talent pool that is overlooked and under-utilized," said Brent Layton, senior vice president of business development at Centene. "And a lot of that is around people with disabilities."
The other half of the Next Step Initiative focuses on helping people with disabilities prepare for interviews, write resumes and find employment.
Samantha Scott is a 2012 graduate of the Next Step Initiative. She now teaches at Carondelet Leadership Academy.
"I was fortunate enough to know that I wanted to find a job in teaching," said Scott. "But my barriers were really, once finding a school and going to an interview, just how to disclose my disability in a positive way and show that I still had a lot of skills and could be effective in the workplace."
Scott is visually impaired. She carries a hand-held magnifier with her on the job, which she says served as a tool to engage the curiosity of her students.
For more information, call 314-588-7090 or visit the Starkloff Disability Institute website.