Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bridges from School to Work

This week’s guest blog post is by Kelly Pavich, employee representative and trainer at the Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities, established in 1989 by the family of J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott to enhance employment opportunities for young people with disabilities. Kelly’s story of Marriott’s work with the Chicago Children’s Museum is a useful case study as museums explore employment strategies that will help build a more diverse museum workforce.

The Marriott Foundation’s Bridges from School to Work program helps develop and support the needs of local employers and the career goals of young adults with disabilities. As a recent CFM blog post (May 2011) pointed out, minority populations, including the disabled, may not feel welcome in museums if they are unable to identify with the staff. Bridges works with many museums across the country to help them find qualified, motivated employees from among the community of people with disabilities.

In the case of the Chicago Children’s Museum (CCM), Bridges complements an existing initiative, Play For All, that emerged in 2004 from a college intern’s commitment to making the museum more accessible for ALL guests, specifically those with disabilities. Lynn Walsh, manager of guest access & inclusion at CCM tells of how the museum formed a team, interviewed guests with disabilities, and surveyed their front-line staff. These conversations helped them realize that their guests wanted to interact with staff they could identify with. The staff, conversely, admitted they were afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing with guests with disabilities, so they simply did nothing at all. The museum used this information to bridge the gap between staff and this potential audience by:
  • Instituting mandatory training on disability awareness for all staff
  • Soliciting input from universal design experts & local access advocates to ensure accessibility of all exhibits, programs, and public spaces 
  • Starting the Position Paper Project to create institutional policies that encompassed access and inclusion  
CCM staff also teamed up with several local community organizations to strengthen their Play For All initiative including, in 2006, Marriott’s Bridges Program. Here’s how the partnership works:
  • Bridges identifies and trains job candidates who are reliable, dedicated, and hard working staff members 
  • These candidates add to CCM’s staff diversity 
  • CCM is able to provide excellent customer service to ALL guests 
  • CCM provides Bridges candidates with an excellent place to work, grow, & learn 
  • Bridges’ candidates aid in the understanding that people with disabilities are people first, and other staff members no longer see the disability, they see the person 
  • CCM’s guests appreciated “seeing someone like them” working at the museum 
  • Bridges representatives focus on the candidates’ ABILITIES vs. disabilities 
  • CCM provides programming that enables ALL of their guests to focus on their ABILITIES.
Bridges from School to Work has over 25 similar successful partnerships with other museums/cultural institutions across the country, for example:

  • San Francisco: the Exploratorium (8 Bridges’ candidates currently employed).
  • Philadelphia: the National Constitution Center (more than 5 Bridges’ candidates hired).
  • Washington, D.C.: the Kennedy Center (working with Bridges for over 11 years).
  • Chicago: where CCM has been named the Employer of the Year for hiring more than 9 candidates.
Bridges is committed to the efforts of access & inclusion, to increasing staff morale, staff & guest diversity and guest attendance for museums’ nationwide. CCM believes that the core of creating an accessible and inclusive environment lies within their staff, and their partnership with the Bridges program is one step in closing that demographic gap. The ultimate goal of our two organizations working together is to make visitors and staff - of all abilities - feel welcome, included and valued.

To learn more about Bridges from School to Work and explore how our job candidates might benefit your organization, contact Mr. Tad Asbury, executive director & vice president, at 301-380-7771.

CCM is a fair and equal work environment for people with disabilities-and a fun place to work! I am proud to be a valued member of our Guest Connections staff.”—Eddie Guajardo, recipient of the 2007 Bridges Youth Achievement Award.

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