ICS Recognized as Leading Disability Employer by NOD

Independence Care System (ICS) has been recognized as a 2021 Leading Disability Employer by the National Organization on Disability (NOD), a significant honor and the first in the organization’s 20-plus year history.
ICS Members
CLDR Co-Chairs Marcus Johnson and Sharifa Abu-Hamda

ICS is the recipient of NOD’s Leading Disability Employer Seal, which recognizes ICS for measuring and achieving strong talent outcomes for employees with disabilities as well as its commitment to building an inclusive workforce by adopting exemplary employment practices for people with disabilities and tracking efforts to measure impact.

NOD is a private, non-profit organization that promotes the full participation and contributions of America’s 57 million people with disabilities in all aspects of life. NOD focuses on increasing employment opportunities for the 80 percent of working-age Americans with disabilities who are not employed.

NOD recognition an honor for ICS

ICS leadership, staff and members were ecstatic to learn of NOD’s designation, which recognizes the organization’s efforts to hire talented individuals with disabilities; create a disability-inclusive culture; manage training opportunities; and maintain a comprehensive disability strategy with policies, procedures and resources. NOD has acknowledged ICS for its climate and culture, its policies and practices and its talent sourcing across the board.

ICS President and CEO Regina Martinez-Estela said ICS was thrilled by the recognition, and explained that from its inception to present, the organization remains one that respects the skills and talents of people with disabilities. The goal, Regina said, is to continue to allow the organization to flourish as a safe space for members and staff and remain committed to hiring people with disabilities and utilizing their real life experiences and insight to determine how to serve the community of New Yorkers with disabilities.

“I was happy and extremely honored we were recognized in this way,” Regina said. “The work we’ve done over the last 20 years has been remarkable. ICS is a diverse, equitable and inclusive community. We’re an organization that talks about our core mission to live independently in the community. Part of that is being employed and being an active member of the broader community.”

Regina also highlighted the organization’s focus on diversity, equity and inclusion and ensuring that aspect of the ICS culture remains intact through workshops, practices and policies.

“We create a space where people can come and be whoever they are,” Regina said. “Gender, race, ethnicity, ability, disability, sexual orientation — you walk into ICS and you can feel we are a community. What does that imply? Looking out for one another. You have something that connects you to these people you’re next to everyday. Your contributions are valuable. You can flourish.”

ICS Vice President of Human Resources Catherine Barufaldi echoed those sentiments, and said what she is most proud of is the organization having created a workplace that reflects the organization’s values and mission and supports the goals of people with disabilities.

“Our entire organization is better off, our city is better off when people with disabilities can contribute and make a difference in incredible ways,” Catherine said. “While ICS is welcoming and accessible and I presume it has enhanced their lives, our organization has been enhanced by their working with us.”

ICS staff react to NOD designation

ICS staff, including Independent Living Program Manager Sharifa Abu-Hamda, also expressed gratitude and appreciation for the Leading Disability Employer recognition.

Sharifa emphasized that the Independent Living Program is one of many measures ICS has taken over the years to support people with disabilities and to create a more diverse and inclusive culture. More so, the program has led to several members obtaining employment and being able to support themselves in the workforce—which clearly highlights ICS’ dedication to support members being independent and engaged in their communities.

Sharifa, who earned her accounting degree from Pace University, thought she’d secure a job in her field out of college, but that did not happen.

“An opportunity for being employed was not an option because of my disability,” said Sharifa, who later accepted an opportunity at ICS. “ICS gave me a chance. Because of that, I’m now managing the Independent Living Program. ICS believed I could be more and allowed me to enhance my skills. They offered coaching. That also led to my becoming president of the Civics League for Disability Rights. ICS opened a lot of doors for me—I’ve come a long way.”

ICS Advocacy Specialist Marcus Johnson, who has been with ICS for more than 15 years, praised ICS’ practices and focus on supporting people with disabilities.  He referenced his experience with ICS’ past Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Women’s Health and disability rights advocate Marilyn Saviola, noting that when people with disabilities see others in the same employment space, it makes a difference.

“When Marilyn interviewed me, that put me at ease. I saw someone like me,” Marcus said. “I felt so much more comfortable. I was still very young with a disability, so having someone like me engage me in conversation was important.”

ICS, moving forward

As ICS moves forward, the hope, leaders say, is to continue to expand on employment opportunities for people with disabilities. While the Leading Disability Employer is an honor, the organization plans to continue to grow in the area. Leaders agreed that it’s not only important for ICS, but for organizations across the country, to do more to ensure opportunities exist for people with disabilities.

“It’s great to be recognized, but there are so few organizations that are trying to do this, 30 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Catherine said. “For ICS, we had to do an extensive survey about our practices for NOD. That helped us think about things we haven’t thought about before. We plan on further improving our practices even more for years to come.”

Marcus agreed, acknowledging that there is still more to be done to support people with disabilities in the area of employment.

“People go on interviews and don’t have enough experience. Think about how difficult that has to be,” Marcus said. “They aren’t given the opportunity to go into a job to use what they’ve learned in school and to build a skillset. People with disabilities are still disenfranchised and marginalized. They need that chance. We have to push forward to the point where people with disabilities are not outcasts. We should revel in this award, but there is still so much more to do.”

Christopher Engelhardt

Christopher Engelhardt

Communications Specialist