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AbilityLinks Consortium Expo, March 20, 2008

Persons with disabilities continue to struggle for self determination and inclusion especially when it comes to finding a job, but signs of progress and rays of hope light the way. That was the theme of last month’s AbilityLinks Consortium Employment Expo where over 300 job seekers with disabilities, employers and vocational rehabilitation professionals met in Downers Grove, Illinois to attend a conference and network in an exhibit hall filled with employers and job seekers with disabilities from the entire Chicagoland area.    

Over 300 Persons attended the 2008 AbilityLinks Expo  

“Successful rehabilitation therapy is a time consuming and challenging process but well worth the effort especially when the individuals that finish rehabilitation have the opportunity to live a life of their own choosing. AbilityLinks was created to make that possibility a reality,” said Kathleen Yosko, President and CEO of Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital and Co Chair of the AbilityLinks Consortium, a role she shares with Tim Moen, Executive Vice President of Northern Trust Bank. “Today is an example of how coming together as a consortium can accomplish what no single individual, company, non profit or government agency can effectively do alone, shine a light on persons with disabilities that successfully go to work everyday and increase employment opportunities for others like them that are looking for work” Ms. Yosko went on to say.  

A Day of Education and Awareness

The 2008 AbilityLinks Expo featured a full day of educational programming including sessions on successful interviewing, disability awareness, starting your own business, employment law, disability research and fast growing occupations where jobs are being created, but the highlight was a key note address by Randy Lewis, the father of a child with Autism and a top Walgreen Co. executive. Mr. Lewis spoke about the hope he has for his son and others like him, that they have the opportunity to do many of the things that most of us take for granted, like working or driving a car.


As the parent of a disabled child he has experienced first hand how the world can be less than kind and encouraging to a person with a developmental disability like Autism. Mr. Lewis spoke of a steady stream of meetings with educators and medical personnel to plan his son’s education and discuss his potential, meetings that all too often were short on hope and long on sobering descriptions of his son’s limitations.

Randy Lewis, Walgreens Co.,  Kathleen Yosko, Marianjoy

Walgreens Innovative Diversity Initiative

The title of Mr. Lewis’ remarks “When Hope and History Rhyme” is borrowed from an ancient poem which tells us that what we hope for and the opportunity to achieve it occurs together only once in a life time. It’s a message that inspired Mr. Lewis, a Senior Vice President of Logistics for Walgreens Co. to act by leading the company’s unique initiative to embrace disability as part of diversity.  The results so far have been good.

Walgreens Co. recently opened a new high tech distribution center in Anderson South Carolina where about 40% of the workforce has a disability and plans to open a second one soon in Connecticut. Mr. Lewis made two points about this initiative that he considers important. The disabled individuals employed in Anderson are able to do the job. They meet or exceed productivity standards. New technology and innovative engineering make it easier for many individuals to perform but more important than technological innovation is the innovation in attitude and the transforming atmosphere that is present in the distribution center. It goes beyond tolerating differences to celebrating and embracing them, and it has a positive impact on productivity and morale for ALL employees, with and without disabilities, Mr. Lewis indicated.

Hope and History Can Rhyme

To further demonstrate their commitment to diversity and share what they have learned, Mr. Lewis and Walgreens invite other companies, even competitors to visit Anderson. They want other employers to experience the transforming attitude and atmosphere first hand, learn how this diversity initiative makes good business sense and see that hope and history can rhyme:

Human beings suffer,
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.  

History says, don't hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

An excerpt from “The Philoctetes,” by Sophocles, translated by Seamus Heaney.

AbilityLinks Award Winners Honored

AbilityLinks annual award winners were also announced and honored at the Expo. The AbilityLinks Visionary Award was accepted by John Roth and Zrinka Allen of Wolters Kluwer Company, Riverwoods, Illinois for their efforts to employ IT staff with disabilities. The SPR nAblement program nominated Wolters Kluwer and supplied them with qualified IT candidates for contract work.

Zrinka Allen, Wolters Kluwer

The AbilityLinks Advocacy in Action Award was accepted by Jennifer Irby of the Doubletree Guest Suites in Downers Grove, Illinois for Doubletree’s sponsorship of the AbilityLinks Expo and their efforts to train and recruit high school students with disabilities that want to explore careers in the hospitality industry.

Kathleen Yosko, Marianjoy, Jennifer Irby, Doubletree Guest Suites, Ken Skord, AbilityLinks  

The AbilityLinks Spirit Award  winner was Yemisi Olubodun a recent Nigerian immigrant who is deaf and had to learn about American culture, Hearing culture and how to talk with American employers all at once so she could land a job and live an independent life in the United States. With persistent effort and the support her counselors Sarah Michaelson of the Anixter Center and Bill O’Connor of AbilityLinks, Ms. Olubodun is successfully employed for Megah Design, a Naperville, Illinois business.

Yemisi Olubodun

Expo Sponsors and Volunteers

“We are grateful to all of the individuals that are here today and especially thankful to the excellent group of presenters, sponsors, exhibitors and volunteers from the AbilityLinks Consortium that worked so hard to make this event a great success,” said Kathleen Yosko.

    Sponsor Recognition          

The event was presented in partnership with the College of DuPage and business sponsors included Northern Trust Bank, Walgreens, RR Donnelley,, Kensington International, Advanced O & P Solutions, Ball, DoubleTree Guest Suites, Bowe Bell + Howell, Carnow, Conibear & Associates, Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital and The Martin-Brower Company. AbilityLinks Consortium Members that volunteered their time to present the event included the Illinois Department of Human Services, DuPage Center for Independent Living, Donka Inc., DuPage Workforce Board and Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Busy Expo Volunteers

About AbilityLinks

AbilityLinks is a consortium of leading businesses, government agencies and non profits that help employ persons with disabilities by sharing information about job opportunities and job candidates.

The centerpieces of the AbilityLinks Consortium is, a newly designed, upgraded and award winning job opportunity website which provides a single point of contact for  persons with disabilities, service providers and employers. 

AbilityLinks offers top-level educational programming that empowers employers to embrace disability as diversity and teaches individuals effective job search strategies. Via live text chat and telephone, AbilityLinks Information Specialists support employers and job seekers that use  



AbilityLinks is in partnership with CareerBuilder, disabilityworks at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Arbita Global Jobs Cross-Posting and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and a program of Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital. Please contact Ken Skord, Director of AbilityLinks at 630/909-7440 or for more information.

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