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Recently ABILITY Magazine editor-in-chief Chet Cooper spoke with Steve Tamburro, co-chair of the association of persons with disabilities at the Raytheon Company. Tamburro helped plan a recent Creating Pathways to Work retreat. The daylong strategic-visioning event brought together key representatives of federal and state government, educators, members of the business community and advocates for people with disabilities, along with Rhode Island Congressman Jim Langevin, the first quadriplegic elected to Congress. They huddled to address the barriers and challenges people with disabilities face when trying to enter the workforce. Tamburro, who has had MS for 10 years, serves as manager of Community Partnerships for Raytheon, an 80-year-old company that specializes in defense, homeland security and other government markets throughout the world.

Chet Cooper: How did you get involved with the retreat?

Steven Tamburro: I’ve been a member of the Rhode Island Business Leadership Network for the past few years. It was there that I met Elaina Goldstein. She leads Rhodes to Independence, which is devoted to ensuring that people with disabilities who want meaningful employment are able to find it. They also hold job fairs and prepare job candidates so they are interview-ready.

Elaina and I discussed a number of different things, and she invited me to serve on a conference panel to discuss the barriers and problems folks with disabilities face when trying to enter the work force. She decided to have me as a guest on the panel to represent the Business Leadership Network, Raytheon, as well as people with disabilities. It was a very interesting conference, but in the end everyone kind of turned to each other and said, “OK, now what?”

Cooper: Did anyone answer that question?

Tamburro: (laughs) Well, at first there was silence in the room. That’s a very bad thing for me, because when there’s silence, I tend to make a comment. But this time, I felt confident speaking up since it was about Raytheon’s Six Sigma process. We use it to solve all different kinds of problems or to facilitate a process, whether it be in manufacturing or in an office. So I said, ‘I don’t know how successful I’ll be, but I’m going to see if I can get Raytheon to sponsor a Six Sigma event to see if we can figure out our next steps.’ And we went from there.

Then I met with our vice president at the corporate office, Larry Harrington, who is an advocate for inclusion in the corporation in a number of different ways. He was very supportive. So we applied our Six Sigma methodology to the problem. It goes like this:

Step 1: Visualize—Establish the burning platform: Why is this problem worth investing the time and resources required to solve it, and what are attributes of the ideal or future state?

Step 2: Commit—Identify and obtain the commitment of the accountable sponsor; the sponsor ensures allocation of appropriate resources to move forward.

Step 3: Prioritize—Determine the scope of the project and the key, prioritized tasks required for the effort.

Step 4: Characterize—Document and analyze the current state, detailing and identifying the root causes of any undesirable effects, and identify potential alternatives.

Step 5: Improve—Apply tools, data-driven analysis and rational decision making processes to select the optimal solution; create and implement an improvement plan.

Step 6: Achieve—Capture results and celebrate the achievement; document lessons learned, sharing project documentation to shorten the cycle of learning when others approach similar issues.

Cooper: Sounds comprehensive. So, during the event, how did you identify who should be the key participants?

Tamburro: In Rhode Island, the issue is complicated because there are many different state agencies all trying to do the same thing. It’s almost like they’re in a competitive mode instead of a supportive one at times. So we knew that all of the folks in the state who are currently helping people with disabilities needed to be at the conference. That meant that we needed to get a commitment from the Department of Human Services, which we did. When Elaina approached the point person for that department, Gary Alexander, he immediately said,“Yes, we’ll definitely get the key people there that you need.” He got all of the different organizations involved by throwing his support behind it.

We also wanted some folks with disabilities who have actually used the system, their families, service providers and any other stakeholders. We were very successful in getting the attendance we needed.

Cooper: How did you get Congressman Langevin to participate?

Tamburro: He’s always been a supporter, both in Washington DC and within the state. He came to the event and brought two staffers.

Cooper: What were the results?

Tamburro: We identified the burning platform—the main problem that we’re trying to solve. Then we were able to create a vision statement to make sure that Rhode Island’s commitment to inclusiveness reflects something that truly recognizes the ability of all citizens, not just their disabilities. We also identified key stakeholders to serve as catalysts and move forward with the Six Sigma tools.

One thing that rang true was that there was a lack of knowledge about all the resources available within the state. Even folks that work with people with disabilities on a daily basis did not know all the resources available, and if they did, most didn’t understand them well enough to recommend them.

Also, various agencies weren’t working together. So there was definitely a need to clarify all the different organizations, what they do and how they do it. Workers needed to be made aware and familiarized with these programs. If somebody becomes disabled or is living with a disability and jumps on the internet to do research, they need to be able to determine which agency is best for them. So there needed to be more of a common vision and collaboration among the agencies. They needed to inform providers and clients of what is available and what might be best for them. So we focused a lot on education.

There were also knowledge gaps among the field workers. By that I mean, the field-office staff needs to be fluent with all the programs and processes and just provide accurate information and excellent service. The only way to be able to do that is to be fluent in how the services work and how the folks with disabilities can access them. So one of the themes that just kept coming up throughout the day seemed to be education, and that was a problem area that we could solve fairly easily. So each group took back work with a small team to start looking at getting some of these issues resolved. So those would be the next steps.

Cooper: Did you set dates for additional meetings?


Tamburro: Yeah, we’re hoping to have a progress meeting. There were some things—what we call “low-bearing fruit”—which we could do now and get some benefit from now. So those are the types of things we’re trying to implement going forward.

Cooper: Can you name some of this “fruit?”


Tamburro: (laughs) Specifically, some areas of education. One of the things that Amy Judge—the legislative assistant from Congressman Langevin’s office—was going to do is schedule town hall meetings to talk to people and educate them at various locations, mostly in Rhode Island. Continuing throughout next year, we were going for what we call constituent engagement, which meant collecting data from all of the town hall sessions and initiating advocacy in the legislative arena. So once there’s a good feeling for these town hall information-gathering sessions, we’ll start looking to see what type of role the legislature might play in this, what types of things need to be passed, what types of things need to be improved upon.

Cooper: So at this point you’re not prepared to set goals for a number of people that should be hired over a certain period of time?

Tamburro: We didn’t set any specific goals for the state of Rhode Island. There are people in the state that monitor those metrics as to how many folks with disabilities get jobs and how many retain them, so that data is available. What we’re hoping to do now is help people understand everything that’s out there and become better educated about state services and providers of those services. So that’s who we’re hoping to really impact, and that’s something we can measure.

I’m hoping to be able to get the same group back together at some point next year. But at a minimum, we can definitely do some type of survey of all the participants and find out how they see things changing. We could also go back to the actual clients, people with disabilities and ask how they’re doing. We could ask folks who used the system before the education process and folks who haven’t, to get a sense of whether or not people are becoming more aware of the services.

So it’s kind of a tough thing to get your arms around, but the fact of the matter is, the confusion is something that we feel we can clear up, and the education process is something that we can monitor and measure. We also wanted to follow up, after people went back to their groups, and find out how they were doing. Did everybody leave this event and go back to their lives and just say, ‘OK, that was a nice day with a nice lunch,’ and that’s that? Or were they truly committed? I think everyone at the meeting was excited. There was definitely an energy running through the room, so I really do believe that there will be some great impact from this.

Cooper: Aren’t the one-stops supposed to be doing what you’re doing—integrating all the different services and educating?


Tamburro: One-stop centers, as the name suggests, were definitely intended to be just that. You go in and you get all the information you need. But for whatever reason, that is not what was happening. To put your arms around it got extremely complicated. But that’s something we believed we could look at and have an impact.
.... continued in ABILITY Magazine

ABILITY Magazine
Other articles in the Laura Innes issue include Headlines — CVS, Red Cross, AT&T Foundation; Humor Therapy — It’s Sad Not Being Happy; George Covington — When Life’s A Blur; Humor Therapy; Senator Letter — Ben Nelson; DRLC — Is Your Health Care System Accessible?; Allen Rucker — Thoughts on the Writers Strike; Green Pages — Save Bucks in the Bathroom; Betsy Valnes — Sticks and Stones; Deaf Cruise — Partiers of the Caribbean; ChairKrazy — Making Music, Making Change; Dr. Hans Keirstead — Stem Cell Pioneer; Richard Pimentel — Get A Job (Here’s How); ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences...subscribe

Dec/Jan 2007-08

More excerpts from the Laura Innes issue:

Laura Innes -- Interview

Ricky James — Still Zooming Ahead

Hans Keirstead — Stem Cell Pioneer

Will Downing -- Will Power

UCP — Life Without Limits

Raytheon — Rhodes To Independence

Betsy Valnes — Sticks and Stones

Richard Pimental — Get A Job (Here's How)

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