Vincenzo Piscopo of The Coca-Cola Co. said the days of thinking of disabled individuals as charity cases may be over.

As more disabled Americans play more prominent roles in advertising and TV/films, on both sides of the camera, they bring to the forefront the roles they can play as successful members of society, he said, adding that allows companies like the Atlanta-based soft drink giant to employ more of them.

“It applies more pressure and allows us to hire more people,” said Piscopo, Coca-Cola’s community and stakeholder relations director. “With social responsibility, it’s becoming extremely important for companies to (respond). Consumers are no longer OK with organizations not taking a stand for people with social issues. … Social responsibility becomes so important because it makes a daily impact on those with disabilities and those wanting more diversity.

“There’s been a paradigm shift between charity and (empowerment). People with disabilities don’t need charity. People with disabilities need opportunity. Once they get that, they can succeed.”

Piscopo and Jim Sinocchi, head of disability inclusion at New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co., spoke on how businesses can empower disabled individuals during a July 30 online panel discussion moderated by RespectAbility board of advisors member Randy Duchesneau, and all three are disabled and confined to a wheelchair. The day’s topic was “The Future of Work for People with Disabilities.”

The talk was part of RespectAbility’s five-day #ADA30 Summit that is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and running July 27 through 31.

RespectAbility is a Rockville, Maryland-based nonprofit that fights for individuals with disabilities to fully participate in all aspects of American life. The act, which provides prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, was signed into law July 26, 1990 by President George H.W. Bush.

Piscopo and Sinocchi were just two of several business, nonprofit, entertainment and other leaders speaking at the summit.

Sinocchi said the COVID-19 pandemic has caused some problems for disabled Americans, and the nation prospers from having businesses of all sizes hire them. He added hiring the disabled will help reduce the funding burden for taxpayers on governments providing for the unemployed.

“Right now we’re at an impasse where they can’t go to work without losing their benefits (due to the outbreak), so they have to stay home. But we need to move the bar,” he said. “There was a study that stated people with disabilities could return $300 billion to the economy while working.”

Piscopo said the pandemic has brought a couple of advantages to disabled individuals in that shifting to working from home is seamless because their homes are already accessible in terms of bedrooms, bathrooms and home offices and they’re already technologically equipped to telework.

But both he and Sinocchi warned that while working from home is a good option for all Americans during the pandemic, the need for in-person interaction remains high.

“We found people with disabilities can work from home quite well,” Sinocchi said of JP Morgan Chase, which has hired about 4,200 disabled individuals since 2016. “… I don’t know what the tolerance for teleworking will be moving forward since people need the networking aspect of it to meet in person, and you’ll see people meet for lunch face to face to get that. The interaction with (virtual) meetings is good but the face-to-face interaction is better.”

He added in-person contact is the only way to build strong relationships to develop a strong workforce.

“You need that time to meet people and learn how they work to see if they can one day be a manager,” Sinocchi said.

The summit’s events are free but attendees must register online, and it closes closes July 31 with activities related to the subject of “Leadership: Making A Difference for the Future.” Online training sessions for companies and employers are also available Aug. 4 and 11.

For more information on all these events or to register for each one, visit www.respectability.org/category/events.

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