Enriching our Workplaces
Disabilities: Playing Hard to Get?
Links - A job-matching site and job-posting site for recruiting
applicants with disabilities. (Note: strong focus on Illinois)
Gateway - A national site for recruiting college students with
disabilities by Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities (COSD).
Digest is a free nation-wide weekly online
newsletter on Deaf Issues & news. Each issue is
accompanied by job postings targeted at Deaf applicants.
Disaboom Jobs - A
job-matching (resume and job-posting) site for recruiting applicants with
- Canadian job-posting service targeted at
job seekers with disabilities.
Assistance Referral Network
- Free service to link employers with job seekers from local placement
HireDeaf.com - A targeted recruiting site for Deaf
and hard-of-hearing applicants.
HIRE.US - An
online resume data base of asian american/pacific islander graduates with
Job Access A job-matching
site for recruiting applicants with disabilities.
Opportunities for the Blind - A national program
that will train Blind job seekers for specific job
opportunities with partner companies. (free)
Business & Disability Council - Resume bank for Members.
Conference Board of Canada - Booklet, in pdf format,
on tapping the talent of people with disabilities.
- a service of disabledperson.com - FREE resume search for
prospective employees with disabilities.
Contact information for more than 1000 recent
graduates with disabilities from over 150 colleges and universities.
Disability Employment 101: Learn To Tap Your "Hire" Potential
- Publication of the U.S. Department of Education (Search Website by the
Recruiting: People With
By Rob McInnes
article was written to help employers be more effective at recruiting
individuals with disabilities. Feel free to reproduce it with appropriate
credit and reference.)
Getting Your Bearings
Dismantling Attitudinal Barriers
American companies are short of workers. There are 9.6 million unemployed,
working-age people with disabilities who would prefer to be working. You are
probably reading this because, like most other companies in America, your
company can’t afford to ignore a poorly-tapped labor pool of 9.6 million
good news is that there really are 9.6 million unemployed Americans who want
jobs. The bad news is that recruiting them isn’t all that easy –
particularly finding the ones with the right skills for your job openings.
Companies that are proactive about recruiting people with disabilities,
companies that proactively do “targeted” recruiting, find that this minority
group is quite different from others that they have targeted in the past.
Unlike racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities are more
difficult to target. They do not as readily congregate in groups. With few
exceptions, you are unlikely to find high concentrations of people with
disabilities in particular neighborhoods, churches, cultural organizations,
etc. Similarly, particularly on a local level, there are few media sources
(magazines, TV programs, radio shows, etc.) that effectively reach a broad
audience within the disability community.
Given that, how can
your company develop a strategic recruiting program that will enable you to
successfully attract applicants with disabilities?
A truly successful
recruiting program is going to be a multi-faceted one. While there isn’t a
proscribed “recipe for success”, there are many ingredients that are
typically a part of successful programs – and we will describe them here.
Which ones you choose to use (and what proportions you choose to use them
in) will be determined by your own resources, commitment and creative
Getting Your Bearings
Particularly if you are new to the whole area of recruiting people with
disabilities, you are going to want to learn both about the issues that
people with disabilities face in the labor market, and the strategies that
other employers have used to successfully recruit them.
– Don’t overlook
opportunities to tap into the experiences and knowledge of other companies.
Many companies are more than willing to share the strategies that have
helped them to successfully recruit people with disabilities. Find out what
local companies have been recognized for their success and then find out
what works for them.
In some locales, groups
already exist to encourage this kind of exchange between employers. Business
Leadership Networks exist in over 30 states and are intended to be
employer-to-employer forums on disability-related issues. (See:
www.usbln.com) You might also find this kind of dialogue by affiliating
with local Industry Liaison Groups (See:
http://www.nilg.org) or the Diversity-related activities of
the Society for Human Resources Management (See:
- In order to gain more
insight and strategic positioning for your company, you may also find it
useful for you or others in your company to volunteer some time with a
Community Based Organization (CBO). Most CBOs readily welcome interest and
involvement from employers – as Members of their Board of Directors,
participants on Advisory Boards, and or as program-related volunteers. Some
CBOs follow the “Projects with Industry” model. Their key programmatic
strategy is “Business Advisory Committees” – representatives from local
business and industry that help them determine the nature and focus of their
services. There are over 100 Projects With Industry throughout the country
and most of them belong to INABIR - the InterNational Association of
Business Industry and Rehabilitation (See:
Inter-National Association of Business, Industry & Rehabilitation)
– There are a
variety of useful resources available for your personal study. Several of
our favorites are listed here:
Working with People With Disabilities by Richard Pimentel (http://www.diversityshop.com/store/working.html)
Succeeding Together: People With Disabilities in the Workplace
Employer Resource Kit
The Ten Commandments of Communicating with People With Disabilities
Business Leadership Network (www.cabln.org)
general, people with disabilities have historically faced a variety of
barriers to employment. Because of this, many organizations and services
have been established to help individuals surmount those barriers. In your
efforts to successfully recruit people with disabilities, it is in your
interest to take advantage of these resources.
- CBOs are organizations that provide employment and/or training to people
with disabilities. They come in all shapes and sizes and they will have
varying capacities to meet your workforce needs. Generally, CBOs also have
limited penetration within their disability communities. (Less than 20% of
employees with disabilities attribute their recruitment to the services of a
CBO). However, they do provide some of the highest concentrations of
disabled job seekers that you are likely to find and they can often provide
you with other related services and supports.
It goes without saying
that you should develop solid contacts with disability-focused organizations
within your recruiting territory – particularly those CBOs that provide
training/education/employment services to individuals with disabilities.
As a first step, you
should develop an inventory of CBOs in your recruiting territory. You might
consider a standardized format for this data that would include:
people with disabilities do they place annually?
percentage of those have the kinds of skill sets that you are seeking?
they screen assess their clients?
services will they provide you with? (i.e. Some CBOs can also provide you
with job accommodation support, in-house disability-related staff training,
post-placement support do they offer you and/or the employee? (i.e. Many
CBOs provide post-placement retention-focused support.)
mechanisms does the CBO have to be kept alerted to your recruiting needs and
to keep you alerted to prospective applicants?
companies you can contact for references on their services?
You might want to
consider using the CBO assessment tool developed by Mainstream Inc. (See:
Government Agencies – Many
government agencies, at local, state and federal levels, to provide services
that support people with disabilities in their efforts to secure employment.
These can vary from state to state and community to community. Some are more
strictly focused on job placement than others.
Rehabilitation Agencies exist in virtually every State and, among other
responsibilities, are charged with securing “employment outcomes” for their
clients. (For contact information on State Vocational Rehabilitation
Most States have a
Governor’s Committee on employment concerns for people with disabilities.
These can be an excellent source of referral and information on how to
target your recruiting efforts. For a listing of Governor’s Committees, see
The Employer Assistance Referral Network (EARN) assists employers
to locate and recruit qualified workers with disabilities. Through a single
national toll free number, 1-866-327-6669, well-informed technical
assistance specialists will take employers job orders, seek out qualified
local candidates, and return this information to the employer.
Each year, the Workforce
Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities (WRP) offers
employers a free data base over 1000 pre-screened graduating students with
disabilities. These students are from across the Country and represent a
broad spectrum of educational pursuits. (See:
- Every year, a talented new “crop” of students with disabilities graduate
from high schools, colleges and universities. Don’t overlook this great
source of emerging talent.
In a very proactive
move, some larger companies have begun to use employees with disabilities to
take the lead role in recruiting disabled students.
educational institution now has a “Special Needs Office” that provides
supports to students with disabilities. That is a great place to start.
Contact someone there and discuss how your company can best target students
with disabilities on their campus. Sometimes you will be directed to the
Campus Career Center, sometimes the Special needs office will work with you
directly and sometimes, like the University of California Berkeley, there
will even be a Career Center just for students and alumni with disabilities.
If you are not sure who
to contact on a particular campus, the Association on Higher Education and
Disability (AHEAD) may be of help to you. Committed to full
participation in higher education for persons with disabilities, most of its
Members are in disability-related services on campuses throughout North
In an effort to enhance
employment for college graduates with disabilities, the national Disability
Career Project has the
creating a collation between employers, university career services, and
disability services personnel, and disability service organizations. (See:
Generally, students with
disabilities aren’t as well-organized as those from other minority groups;
but a new national alliance is emerging – The National Disabled Students
http://www.disabledstudents.org ) In addition, there
is the National Alliance of Blind Students (NABS). (See:
Some Colleges and
Universities are aggressive about attracting students with disabilities and
have a higher-than average concentration in their student bodies. Two
prominent examples are Gallaudet University (http://www.gallaudet.edu
) and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (http://ntidweb.rit.edu
) – both of which cater particularly to Deaf students.
In addition to direct
recruiting, don’t neglect Internship opportunities. Internships have proven
to be an excellent way to prospect talent and to groom future employees.
Make every effort to include students with disabilities in your Internship
program. Be sure to explore internship possibilities with all your
recruiting contacts for students with disabilities. For a fee, you can
secure some highly-qualified students in technical fields from the Entry
Point program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
- In many communities,
Job Fairs that target job seekers with disabilities are held annually. These
job fairs can give you immediate access to current job seekers. They can
give you an opportunity to heighten your profile within the disability
community and they give you an opportunity to strengthen your ties to local
CBOs. If there isn’t such a Job Fair in your community, consider partnering
with other companies or CBOs to hold one. A manual for planning and holding
disability-focused Job Fairs is available (free) from: Email:
- The Internet has opened a new world of recruiting opportunities for
companies, large and small. Take full advantage of the opportunities that
it affords you to recruit people with disabilities.
Assuming that you have a
“jobs”, “careers”, and/or “diversity” section on your company’s website,
make sure that it is “disability friendly” in both format and content. Ask
your Webmaster to ensure that your website meets at least minimum standards
for web accessibility. (If they don’t know where to start, point them to
“Bobby” Standards at
www.cast.org/bobby/) Whether through pictures or text, communicate your
proactive interest in candidates with disabilities.
If you are using online
services to post jobs and/or search resumes, determine whether or not those
sites are accessible to people with disabilities and what efforts they make
to include people with disabilities in their talent pool.
There are a growing
number of recruiting sites on the Internet that help employers to target
candidates with disabilities. Many of these are listed at
of the most successful approaches that I have seen for recruiting people
with disabilities has been the development of what I call “Proactive
Projects”. Going beyond “general” recruiting strategies of a company, these
are specific and deliberate initiatives to bring people with disabilities
into their workforces. They are typically done in partnership with a CBO or
Educational institution. They have the advantage of concrete and measurable
results, they can often be duplicated in other departments/branches of a
company, and they tend to quickly heighten the level of disability expertise
within a company. Proactive Projects can assume may forms; here are just a
- One large company contracted its in-house print shop to a CBO. The CBO ran
the print shop and employed people with disabilities to do so. The host
company then recruited from that pool of workers for job openings in other
parts of their operations. Similarly, another company contracted a heavily
clerical part of their operation out to a CBO that already ran a clerical
training program – again directly recruiting employees from that talent
pool. (See: State Compensation Insurance Fund
State Fund in the Community
- A company with a chain of hardware stores collaborated with a CBO and a
community college to develop and run a 6-month training program for cashiers
and agreed to hire all graduates of the course. The course included
classroom instruction and in-store work experience. This model has been used
successfully by both individual companies (i.e. a company with a large call
center recruited customer service operators this way and a large retail
store uses this model as an ongoing recruiting tool) and by collaborating
companies within a particular sector (i.e. several banks collaborated to
train/recruit bank tellers and 10 hotels banded together to recruit
assistant chefs.) A very useful book on this “Skills Training Partnerships”
model is available for $10 from the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and
- One company set up a Mentoring program with several CBOs. Several times
annually, a dozen employees of the company were paired with selected job
seekers with disabilities from the CBOs. The company’s employees served as
job-search Mentors for a three-month period. Naturally, the company hired
several of the best candidates. (Contact:
I pointed out earlier, people with disabilities are unlikely to be found
congregated in a way that makes targeted recruiting as easy as you would
like it to be. Any good recruiting strategy, for job seekers with
disabilities, will include portraying a disability-friendly profile to the
People with disabilities are spread throughout virtually every level of
society – every age group, every cultural institution, every ethnic/racial
group, and every social/economic class. This “dispersion” is what makes your
general public profile so important! Carefully consider how people with
disabilities are portrayed in your advertising, merchandising, and
recruiting media. If you are able to portray yourself as a company that
values the contribution of people with disabilities, it is likely that job
seekers with disabilities will gravitate to you. (Particularly when people
with disabilities want to avoid the discrimination and awkwardness that is
so prevalent in most of their contact with employers.)
Even small companies can make big statements. I remember, several years ago,
walking into a store that had a sign on its door that read: “Customers and
job applicants with disabilities are welcome. Please see customer service if
you need any assistance.” I also remember the bank that hired a Deaf Teller
– within weeks, in addition to a significant increase in Deaf customers,
they received numerous applications from qualified candidates with a variety
of different disabilities.
long ago, I remember seeing a recruiting brochure from a major corporation.
They had been careful to include photographs of men and women from different
racial and ethnic backgrounds. They also included an attractive photo of a
young man in a wheelchair. Unfortunately, this picture was not on the pages
about career opportunities; but on the “Community Involvement” page that
outlined their various charitable endeavors. What a different message this
brochure would have communicated to disabled readers if that photo had been
on the “Careers in Engineering” page!
Dismantling Attitudinal Barriers
mindful of attitudinal barriers in your organization that can scuttle all
your best efforts. “Disability” is an emotionally-charged,
- 22% of employers report co-worker stereotypes and attitudes a major
barrier to employment/advancement of people with disabilities.
- 15% of non-disabled people report discomfort at the prospect of working
for, or nearby, a person with a disability.
- 40% of disabled
workers report encountering on-the-job discrimination.
Recruiters, Hiring Managers, even co-workers with misinformation and/or bad
attitudes can effectively block or hinder your best efforts. Be sure that
your part of your recruiting strategy is to educate and inform your
non-disabled workforce! Wouldn’t it be great if applicants with disabilities
were swept into your company on a wave of enthusiasm and support!
- Many local CBOs and Departments of Rehabilitation offer free training
available to employers in their areas. For a fee, articulate people with
disabilities are available in most areas to address topics such as
reasonable accommodations, the ADA, disability etiquette, etc.
Several great videos are
available. One of the best is the Ten Commandments of Communicating with
People With Disabilities. It also comes with handouts and a training module.
If you want to run your
own internal training seminars, rather than develop your own, you might
check out the free curriculum offered by California State University
www.csun.edu/~sp20558/dis/emcurcon.html?113,133) The most widely-used
program in North America is the WINDMILLS Attitudinal Training Program.
email@example.com Train-the-trainer sessions
are available from Milt
Wright & Associates
- A wealth of great informational resources already exist online. Provide
your employees with links to some of the best sites that you can find. A good
starting place on the Internet is the California Business Leadership Network
www.cabln.org) If you have one, your corporate Intranet is an effective
place to keep pertinent information for your employees. I worked with one
company to compile extensive resources on disability issues – recruiting,
interviewing, accommodating, supervising, developing/promoting, etc. It is
an effective way to have critical information at your employees’ fingertips.
- Direct, face-to-face interaction is the most powerful way to break down
attitudinal barriers. Take advantage of every opportunity to give your
employees direct contact with people with disabilities. This contact will do
a lot to overcome any uncertainty discomfort and misinformation that your
employees are harboring. I have already suggested getting your employees
involved with Mentoring programs, hiring Interns, and inviting guest
speakers with disabilities. Here are a few more suggestions:
and Informational Interviews
– Most CBOs value “Mock” interviews as a way for their job seekers to hone
their interviewing skills. They also value “Informational” interviews as a
way for their job seekers to gain industry-specific information on their
career interests. Consider offering such interviews to clients of a local CBO. It is a comfortable way for your employees to increase their own
Internal Training “Scholarships”
– Some companies, again partnering with CBOs, have made some or all of their
internal training courses free to job seekers with disabilities. This is
truly a “win/win” proposition. For little or no cost to the company, such
arrangements enable people with disabilities to gain more marketable skills
– while they give company employees the opportunity to interact directly
with people with disabilities and thereby increase their disability
comfort/acumen. Also, more than one company has snagged a good
employee this way! (For a good model of this, see Project HIRED’s Corporate
Training Partnership Program:
Although they were mentioned earlier, one company used a Job Fair for job
seekers with disabilities as a great opportunity staff development. Instead
of staffing their booth with 2 or 3 employees for the whole day, they
changed shifts every hour – giving over a dozen employees the opportunity to
interact with job seekers and to see the related exhibits on accommodations
and access technologies.
National Disability Mentoring Day
– October 24 is National Disability Mentoring day. It is sponsored by the US
Department of Labor, Office on Disability Policy. It is an exceptionally
good opportunity to involve your employees in a positive interaction with
students with disabilities. (See:
According to every
study conducted in North American workplaces, people with disabilities have
proven themselves to excel in performance and reliability. Companies that
have taken the extra effort to dismantle their own internal reticence and to
proactively tap into this labor pool have reaped the rewards - and continue
to do so.
Implementation of the Provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Survey of 1400 Members of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM),
Gallup and Robinson Survey reported by Training Resources Infolines Update
Harris Poll, 2000.
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Enriching Our Workplaces
By Rob McInnes
A few years ago I attended a meeting
focused on employment and disability issues and led by a well-meaning
corporate executive. Early in the meeting, and new to the field of
employment and disability issues, he jumped to a white board and wrote down
two phrases; “Business has a shortage of labor” and “70% unemployment for
people with disabilities”. He then confidently announced that we had
successfully defined the problem and solution, we only needed to identify
the strategies to achieve our goals and, within six months, we will have
solved the unemployment issue for people with disabilities. Having already
spent over 20 years of my life on the “problem”, I was somewhat less
confident than he was.
While much progress has been made in
North America over the past four decades or so, there are still major issues
to be addressed on the fronts of educational policy, technology, human
rights, attitudinal change, social policy, transportation, etc. This has
been a long haul and will likely continue to be one.
For those of us who are engaged in
the struggle, whether as professionals in the “field” or as individual job
seekers, it is easy to become weary and disillusioned. Because of this, I
think it is important for each of us to consciously hold to some event,
experience or vision that can motivate and empower us when we are
Most recently, my own motivation has
been bolstered by a presentation that I heard at a conference two years ago.
A young mother, Terry Boisot, was recounting the years of struggle that it
took to have her son Ben accepted into his neighborhood public school –
years of confrontation with “authorities” that resisted her desire; because
her son’s disabilities were too severe… because he wouldn’t fit in with the
activities of the classroom… because he needed more “specialized” education
than they could provide… because… because… because. Eventually, Terry’s
perseverance paid off and her son was able to attend his neighborhood
school. But, she said, she was now tired. With tears welling in her eyes,
she told the audience how exhausted she was from her battle to win her son a
place in his school. She explained that although he was now happy and
thriving in school, she was already looking ahead to his graduation – when
he would face the world of employment – where workplaces are every bit as
resistant to people with disabilities as his school had been. Her voice
quivering, Terry expressed her fear that she won’t have the strength needed
to once again overcome the prejudicial attitudes and practices that would
militate against Ben finding his place of productivity and belonging – this
time, in the workforce.
Terry’s situation, representing that
of thousands of other families, has given me a touchstone for my own work in
the disability/employment arena – the conscious awareness that every little
advance that we make, today or this week or next, will increase the
employment opportunities that Ben (as all other children with disabilities)
will have when he graduates.
I remember another meeting that I
attended. I had been asked to comment on disability issues as it pertained
to diversity in the workplace. The audience was primarily workforce
diversity professionals from companies in the Silicon Valley. This was also
a few years ago, when high tech companies were really flourishing. I
remember the hush that fell over the room as I said that, in my opinion, the
workplaces in the Silicon Valley were “impoverished”. Impoverished, I
explained from their lack of true diversity – from the lack of vitality and
energy from a workforce where employees were invited to bring their unique
selves fully into the workplace. Impoverished by workplaces where diversity
is politely acknowledged; but differences aren’t truly valued and where
employees still leave their true authenticity at home.
There is a definitely a qualitative
difference that true diversity brings to a workplace. Over and over, I hear
from employers (who have hired people with disabilities) try to express it;
but just can’t find the words. I wish it had a name. I wish that it could be
quantified; but it remains a mysterious “I can’t put my finger on it; but
something has really changed.”
It is strange and sad that, in the
early 21st century, most North American workplaces are still highly
resistant to the idea of having people with disabilities on their payroll.
It is strange and sad that subjective attitudes and erroneous beliefs are
still at the root of most of that resistance. At the same time, it is a
wondrous experience to occasionally encounter workplaces that have made the
transformation – and to imagine a day when all workplaces will value and
cultivate the contribution of employees with disabilities.
Going back to my earlier reference to
Terry and Ben, I was thrilled to receive a recent update on Ben’s school
life. I think it is a great testament to the unexpected experiences that lie
in wait on the other side of the barriers of fears and prejudice.
“Ben has been included in the regular
classroom of his neighborhood schools since kindergarten. The neighborhood
school didn't want him at first - that was more than 8 years ago. Now they
don't know what to do without him. Last Thursday evening Ben participated in
a school awards ceremony. He sat in his wheelchair in the front row with 30
other kids on stage for an hour. He couldn't see the audience, but he knew
his sister and I were there somewhere. He kept signing ‘Mom,’ and when
one-handed signing got no action, he signed with both. Every now and then he
would throw in a ‘Michelle,’ (his sister). His arms were flailing most of
the event and the other kids on stage weren't distracted. I was. Near the
end of the program, the principal approached the podium and by the 3rd
sentence we knew this award was for Ben. He beamed from ear to ear. While it
has been the highest form of honor to be Ben's mother, it has also been an
honor to know the people who learn to recognize the value of all kids. To
witness the transformation of people is extremely moving.”
These were the words of Ben’s
“The Principal’s Award recognizes a
student who has made a difference to our school during their two years at
Goleta Valley Junior High. This student caught my attention from the first
day. Once in a while, someone crosses your path and, without meaning to, has
the most profound effect on your life. This happened to me last year and has
continued throughout this year. I have learned about new things to value in
my life in ways I never expected or thought possible. He touches my life and
the lives of others and makes a difference every single day at Goleta
Valley. Wherever he goes and whatever he does, he changes people’s outlook
and makes us evaluate our values and beliefs. He reminds you with his smile
and his laugh that he loves being here, loves his classes and teachers, and
loves learning. He has so much to offer and I for one have taken advantage
of this unique opportunity. His persistence and commitment has been
inspiring and we are so lucky that he shares himself with us unconditionally
– a most beautiful and precious gift that I know I will always cherish.
There was no doubt in my mind that the Principal Award belongs to him. It is
with deep respect and admiration that I give this to him. Please help me
recognize BENJAMIN BOISOT.”
Let us all be empowered with the
belief that the impoverished workplaces of today will one day be likewise
enriched by the contribution of Ben and all the other students with
disabilities who are presently working their ways through our schools with
hope and excitement for their futures.
© Rob McInnes, Diversity World, 2003
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For companies that want to be successful at hiring people
with disabilities, interviewing applicants with disabilities is a
particularly critical issue to address. Often times interviewers are
overly nervous and uncomfortable when interviewing an applicant with a
disability. This discomfort is typically based on one or more of the
1. Their unfamiliarity with
disability-related etiquette and communication issues.
2. Their concerns about the legal issues that enforce non-discrimination
in the interview process.
3. Their lack of experience in interacting with people with disabilities
and the fear of uncertainty that arises from this.
Unless an interviewer can find a way to be comfortable in
interviewing candidates with disabilities, they are unlikely to be
ineffective. Without a level of comfort, they will probably not be able
to thoroughly probe the interviewees or resolve any disability-related
concerns that they have. Without being able to accomplish this, they
will not have complete confidence in the interviewee's ability to do the
job - and the interviewee will not be hired.
There are many online resources that provide interviewers
with information on the legal guidelines that they need to know - and
others that outline the basic etiquette and communication issues that
need to be considered. In most communities, government agencies and
community organizations can provide employers with additional printed
information and/or on-site training on these issues.
Experience, however, is the only cure for lack of
experience. Companies should consider providing opportunities for their
hiring managers and/or recruiters to interact directly with people with
a variety of disabilities. Interestingly, many organizations that
provide employment services to people with disabilities are looking for
opportunities for their clients to practice and hone their interviewing
skills. Scheduling "mock interviews" is an ideal way for businesses and
disability-related organizations to partner on a project of mutual
© Rob McInnes, Diversity World, 2004
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