Innovation Lab Grant

The WorkABILITY Innovation Lab advances fully integrated employment and inclusive workplaces for individuals with visible, invisible and undisclosed barriers to employment. Through this solicitation, the WorkABILITY Innovation Lab seeks proposals from qualified entities, to offer innovative projects to advance inclusive workplace practices for individuals with disabilities.

The WorkABILITY advisory board defines innovation as:

  • an original or original adaptation of an existing concept, model, or intervention aimed at advancing employment of individuals with disabilities;
  • a feasible (i.e., capable of being done or carried out) intervention developed and implemented within the real-world environment of workforce development;
  • a replicable (i.e., able to be copied or reproduced) model or intervention developed and implemented within the real-world environment of workforce development;
  • addresses the specific needs of job seekers, employers, and/or service providers; and and
  • changes behavior, practice, and/or policy, in order to promote workplace inclusion, participation, retention, and long-term well-being of individuals with disabilities.

Applicants should construct their proposals with these principles in mind.

In recent years, there has been a heightened emphasis and emergence of new ideas, stemming from the business community, introducing innovative practices to increase inclusion of individuals with disabilities in the workplace. To support this work, Cornell University’s K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Institute on Employment and Disability developed BenchmarkABILITY® to provide an opportunity to self-assess organizational performance on leading practices to promote a disability inclusive workplace. While BenchmarkABILITY® can assist organizations in identifying gaps, we recognize there are a myriad of ways to introduce innovative practices to ensure full inclusion. It is important to recognize change does not necessarily equal improvement. Systems are perfectly designed to obtain the results they currently achieve. Innovative ideas to advance workplace practices will push these systems towards new design and change ideas. Potential areas of focus for this work may address any of the following areas or other relevant workplace inclusion issues:

  • Organizational learning: Organizations can learn through reflection and continuous analysis of actions taken to invoke change, while determining if change is actually leading to improvement. While research studies have examined the effect of organizational culture on output, opportunities remain for leveraging the perspectives of individuals with disabilities to enhance a workplace culture of learning.
    Potential area for innovation: Develop internal organizational structures to expand and evaluate organizational learning.
  • Employee mental health: Many employees who identify as having a disability face mental health challenges due to workplace practices and norms that might require them to conceal their disability, leading to burnout, facing repeated micro-aggressions, resulting in trauma, and/or adopt counter-productive work habits, thereby exacerbating stress.
    Potential area for innovation: Integrating inclusive practices into regular business operations and workflows to protect the wellbeing and mental health of all employees.
  • Job design: The design of many positions occurs without consideration for how functional impairments may mediate participation of qualified applicants. Job design is the process through which employees deploy their skills, abilities, and resources to meet the business goals. Ableism often exists within job descriptions, and deters candidates from applying for roles due to expansive and unnecessary requirements listed. For example, many job descriptions include, “excellent verbal and written communication abilities” as a basic requirement, while this may not be essential of all roles.
    Potential area for innovation: Conceptualize position descriptions to be flexible to ensure equitable access to qualified applicants.
  • Applicant sourcing: Most disability hiring initiatives rely on the same small pool of candidates who seek out the services of vocational rehabilitation agencies and community-based organizations, but a large number of job seekers with a disability do not access those services.
    Potential area for innovation: Expanding channels for sourcing candidates who have a disability beyond vocational rehabilitation agencies and community-based organizations.
  • Interview processes and accommodations: Talent acquisition professionals and hiring managers lack adequate training on how to provide an accommodated interview experience, nor are they trained on how to support individuals with disabilities through the interview. Further, the process for requesting an interview accommodation differs from company to company and often relies on the candidate to identify their need for the interview support (e.g., ASL interpreter). For invisible disabilities, there is not any guidance for external applicants or internal talent acquisition professionals around the types of available interview accommodations/supports.
    Potential area for innovation: Developing clear processes and budgets to include supports in all interviews without need of a request for specific accommodations.
  • New hire onboarding: Many businesses have unclearly defined job requirements and expectations. This leaves new hires from marginalized groups, including employees with disabilities, at a significant disadvantage since they are less likely to be familiar with the unwritten rules of the workplace or network with peers and supervisors to fill in the gaps in their understanding. If the individual requires job coaching, funding for this typically comes from outside sources, and is external to the organization’s personnel structure. These only provide temporary structures as an accommodation, which does not require it to be an embedded part of the organization’s culture.
    Potential area for innovation: Improving transparency of job expectations and requirements so all new hires understand what is expected and have a chance at being successful.
  • Employee career progression: There is a recognition of how systems and structures provide affordances to support the general population of employees. Best practices and tools exist for reducing race and gender bias in talent development and performance management processes, yet few proven interventions exist for mitigating bias towards employees who have a disability.
    Potential area for innovation: Removing systemic biases towards people with a disability, and introduce equitable affordances through an analysis of performance review processes and opportunities for promotion by introducing factors to ensure equitable reviews.
  • Who can apply?
    Any organization focused on employment and disability issues may apply for funding. We encourage proposals that engage an array of stakeholders with a plan for sustainability and/or scalability.

    Funding:
    Awards do not require matching funds. Indirect cost recovery is not an allowed expense. Grant budgets should account for a 12-18-month period, and should not exceed 24 months. Quarterly online progress reporting is required, along with an online end-of-project report. Projects can be funded for up to $75,000.

    The Innovation Grant Program does not support awards for the following:

    • Grants to individuals
    • Any equipment, vehicle or materials purchases
    • Any space rental, construction or building
    • Grants to underwrite fundraising events
    • Multiple applications in a given calendar year
    • Grants that supplant services and supports authorized under law, and/or
    • Grants that perpetuate segregated service delivery paradigms, and
    • Employment or service delivery practices that discriminate based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, national origin, marital status or disability

    To see if your project is eligible for an Innovation Lab grant, read through the information below and click the button at the bottom of the page.

    arrow

    The Innovation Grant Program advances the mission of the WorkABILITY Innovation Lab by:

    • Preparing youth and adults for the world of work
    • Removing barriers and obstacles to meaningful employment unless part of an intervention
    • Creating supportive and inclusive workplace ecosystems
    • Implementing strategies to increase economic self-sufficiency
    • Strategizing effective individualized supports
    • Progressing contemporary disability and employment policies and practices
    • Promoting non-traditional employment strategies

    The Innovation Grant Program does not support awards for the following:

    • Grants to individuals
    • Any equipment, vehicle or materials purchases
    • Any space rental, construction or building
    • Grants to underwrite fundraising events
    • Multiple applications in a given calendar year
    • Grants that supplant services and supports authorized under law, and/or
    • Grants that perpetuate segregated service delivery paradigms, and
    • Employment or service delivery practices that discriminate based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, national origin, marital status or disability

    Any organization focused on employment and disability issues may apply for funding. We encourage proposals that engage an array of stakeholders with a plan for sustainability and/or scalability.

    The Innovation Grant Program accepts applications in three areas.

    Type Description Award
    Community Advancement Grants The purpose of the Community Advancement Grant (CAG) program is to identify, evaluate and promote employment, education and career development innovations for individuals with disabilities at the local level. Up to $40,000
    Systems Enhancement Grants The purpose of the Systems Enhancement Grant (SEG) program is to identify and remove systems obstacles and barriers to the meaningful and full employment of individuals with disabilities, and to evaluate and promote promising practices. Up to $60,000
    Business and Industry Engagement Grants The purpose of the Business and Industry Engagement Grant (BIEG) program is to identify, evaluate and promote those evidence-based workplace innovations that lead to full inclusion of individuals with disabilities in the workplace. Up to $75,000

    Awards in each category do not require matching funds. Indirect cost recovery is not an allowed expense. Grants are typically awarded for a 12-18 month period, but not to exceed 24 months. Quarterly online progress reporting is required, along with an online end-of-project report. Proposals in each category should include a sustainability and/or scalability plan that defines return on investment.

    Grant applications in each award category are currently being accepted online. All applications go through a multi-stage review:

    • The Lab staff decides whether the application aligns with the mission of the Innovation Grant Program.
    • If the proposal is determined to be eligible, the Grants Committee reviews and rates it, and shares it with the Board of Directors.
    • The applicant and the Lab staff engage in an iterative process to finalize the scope, evaluation, and sustainability/scalability of effort. This process may include a presentation to the Board of Directors.
    • The Grants Committee decides whether to recommend that the Board of Directors approve the proposal.
    • If the Grants Committee recommends that the proposal be approved, the Board of Directors decides whether to approve it.

    The Grants Committee is comprised of representatives from the faculty of the Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability and the WorkABILITY Innovation Lab Board of Directors.

    Applications in each of the three grant categories are currently being accepted online. Award notifications will be sent electronically with notice also posted in your online account. All grants are awarded at the discretion of the WorkABILITY Innovation Lab.

    Applications will be reviewed by the Board on a bi-annual basis on June 1st and December 1st annually. Other applications could be reviewed upon receipt and alignment with WorkABILITY Innovation Lab goals and mission.