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Nicklaus: Inclusively, a new job platform for people with disabilities, plans to grow in St. Louis

Nicklaus: Inclusively, a new job platform for people with disabilities, plans to grow in St. Louis

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After being laid off from her graphic design job last April, Sara Jessick applied for 570 positions online.

As she counted the rejections and non-answers, she grew frustrated with the impersonal job search process. When she finally landed an online interview, Jessick, who has a hearing impairment, had difficulty understanding the interviewer.

After seven months of unemployment, Jessick heard about Inclusively, a new job-matching platform for people with disabilities.

She submitted her information and quickly landed another interview. This time, Inclusively made sure the interviewer used Microsoft Teams, a platform that produces real-time captions.

The interview led to a contract position with Juniper Unlimited, an e-commerce site selling adaptive clothing for people with disabilities. Jessick loves the work, and she’s glad she found a job-search platform that understood her needs and aspirations.

“It was a welcome thing to have somebody make sure of what you need to make it a successful experience,” said Jessick, who works remotely from her home in Washington state. “It was really super how quickly and easily I was able to find a job through Inclusively.”

Jessick is among the first 15 people to find jobs through Inclusively, which launched in August and has built a database of 4,000 candidates. Sarah Bernard, chief operating officer, considers that a solid start for a company that’s serving a historically disadvantaged population amid a severe economic downturn.

Only 29% of the 50 million Americans with disabilities are in the workforce, and Bernard thinks that is far too low.

“We are a mission-driven company,” she said. “Placing people with disabilities into roles, and pushing employers … to open up all their roles to people with disabilities is really important to us.”

For now, Inclusively works mainly with large companies, including JPMorgan Chase and Microsoft, that have made a commitment to hiring people with disabilities. Next month, it plans to introduce an employer portal that’s accessible to firms of all sizes.

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Inclusively encourages candidates to be upfront about the accommodations they need, both in the workplace and during the interview process. “The search criteria for jobs has traditionally been by education and job skills, and hasn’t had that other dimension,” Bernard said.

Inclusively’s chief executive and co-founder, Charlotte Dales, lives in Richmond, Va., but Bernard, a 34-year-old St. Louisan, expects much of the company’s growth to happen here.

Inclusively won a $50,000 Arch Grant in November. “It opened doors for us with employers, nonprofits and investors, all of which we need,” she said. “I’ve been blown away with the program.”

Arch Grants Executive Director Emily Lohse-Busch sees Inclusively as exactly the kind of difference-making, high-potential startup her program wants to nurture.

“Our judges loved the idea of shifting the market from finding jobs for people with disabilities to believing that every job should be available to every person,” Lohse-Busch said. “The business model makes a ton of sense, and it meets a need.”

The U.S. has 9 million fewer jobs than it had a year ago, but the pandemic also has changed the job market in ways that should help Inclusively’s job candidates.

In particular, remote work has gone mainstream. “That’s the No. 1 accommodation that is most requested by people with disabilities, and it often was denied before,” Bernard said. “The door has opened quite a bit.”

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