In August, Florida Blue received a perfect score from The DEI, a joint initiative of the American Association of People with Disabilities and the U.S. Business Leadership Network. The Disability Equality Index is a benchmarking tool that scores businesses on a scale of zero (0) to 100 on their disability inclusion policies and practices.

 

Florida Blue is committed to offering more opportunity to workers with disabilities, and they work at building relationships with community organizations that can help with outreach. On Oct. 10, the company hosted its annual Disability Mentoring Day on its Deerwood Campus. Eighteen people spent the morning shadowing Florida Blue staff in various departments, gaining insight into the work the company offers.

The event culminated with lunch where mentors and visitors could get to know each other better. There, I met Ali Perricone, who has worked at Florida Blue since June. She is a graduate of UNF’s On Campus Transition program, which provides a college experience for young adults with intellectual disabilities. OCT Students audit UNF courses, join campus organizations and clubs, and are mentored in academic, social, and recreation activities by UNF student peers.

Ali lives in the ARC Village on Hodges Boulevard and was accompanied on the job initially by her job coach, who helped her master the logistics of getting to work and learning her duties on the job. Ali is now fully trained and independent. She has two assignments: One is ensuring that the conference rooms on campus are ready for meetings: clean and neat, and stocked with supplies and enough chairs for the scheduled attendees. Ali also works with Jennifer Wilburn, the Accessibility Consultant for Florida Blue. Wilburn coordinates accommodations for workers on campus. Ali is helping with the inventory of the specialized equipment that helps people perform their jobs. Wilburn estimates that just under six percent of Florida Blue’s Jacksonville workforce has self-identified as having a disability. The company is increasing accessibility by flexing responsibilities and creating job descriptions around individual abilities.

For example, they are piloting jobs that will lead to careers that work with specific disabilities. Claims work usually requires employees to speak on the phone with customers and manage data and records. A small group of deaf workers is having success in managing data entry on claims while other customer service agents handle calls.

Although the unemployment rate in Florida for the general population is 3.6 percent, only 31 percent of Florida adults with disabilities are working, according to BLS data. (2015 is the last year for which data are available.) This despite the fact that 31 percent of Florida residents with disabilities have some college education; 15 percent have bachelor’s degrees. That’s a large pool of untapped talent.

Wilburn says that hiring from this underemployed workforce makes sense in a labor market that is getting tighter and tighter.

“We’re going to need to reach deeper for workers who want a career with Florida Blue,” she said, “and we’ve got to become an employer of choice for people with disabilities.”

Florida Blue has worked hard to make sure their workplace is open and accessible to all. Find opportunities at floridablue.com/general/careers.

Candace Moody is vice president of communications for CareerSource Northeast Florida. Her column appears every Wednesday in the Times-Union, and she can be reached at cmoody@careersourcenefl.com.