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Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Case Study

Research Center employee working in a lab

Vocational Exploration Program Increasing the Hiring of People with Disabilities

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is primarily housed in Seattle's Lake Union area with satellite offices in downtown Seattle. It is a mile from University of Washington and two miles from other medical centers in the Seattle area with whom the cancer research center collaborates. The center is directed by Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Lee Hartwell, and has more than 2,500 personnel with four divisions: Basic Sciences, Clinical Research, Human Biology, and Public Health Sciences.

Examples of research highlights in the battle against cancer and other diseases for the 2002 year include genetic research on fruit fly development that has shed light on cancer's development (Basic Sciences), the development of allogeneic immunotherapy in treating multiple myeloma (Clinical Research), the effectiveness of breast self exam instructional programs (Public Health Sciences), and isolating gene location in inherited pancreatic cancer (Human Biology).

Innovative Hiring Activity *

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center was contacted by two Projects With Industry in Seattle in the mid to late 90s. These Projects included Neurological Rehabilitation Services (NRS), University of Washington and Washington Vocational Services, Lynnwood, Washington. Mr. Digel was contacted in 1993 to assist NRS in performing community based assessments (CBAs) for individuals with diverse neurological disabilities such as traumatic brain injury, epilepsy, or multiple sclerosis. The 1993 Department of Labor waiver allowing non-paid work for purposes of vocational assessment, exploration, and job skills training was utilized, and Labor and Industries insurance costs were borne through a grant funded by the Rehabilitation Services Administration.

The CBAs started in the glassware facility where the Project With Industry (PWI) clients were taught glassware retrieval procedures from approximately 80 laboratories, procedures for sanitizing glassware according to lab requirements, diverse recycling procedures for different containers, and measuring procedures when using sanitizing chemicals. Over the years, this site has become one of the routine competitive tryout stations for the Project With Industry, with people who receive CBAs often transitioning to permanent employment. The first of the series of transitions to permanent hires involved an individual with a severe traumatic brain injury and multiple days in a coma, and another individual with epilepsy and significant developmental disabilities.

The transition to permanent employment can occur in as little as two months into the tryout with several of these individuals now earning in a $30,000 range with full medical and eye coverage, a pension program, and up to five weeks of vacation. Mr. Digel embraced other roles for the Project With Industry including providing standard client interviews, and working extensively with Ms. Sherrie Dobbs in Human Resources and Mr. Han Nachtrieb, Vice President of Human Resources, to provide other interviewing and CBA experiences throughout the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Through Mr. Digel, inroads have been made into other departments to include Biologics, which develops monoclonal antibodies, and the animal facility that feeds and maintains rodents and other animals involved in research activity. Other CBAs have also been developed in purchasing (client with severe TBI), the legal department (client with a law degree having developed MS), and other departments. Use of the Department of Labor waiver has enabled Mr. Digel to counter skepticism and influence other department supervisors to give those with disabilities an opportunity to demonstrate their competencies. Mr. Digel has also influenced Human Resources in identifying CBAs throughout the cancer research center campus.

At the downtown Statistical Center for HIV/AIDS Research and Prevention, progress was made by the Washington Vocational Services Project With Industry resulting in the hiring of a hearing impaired individual who works in data entry. This hire resulted in an option for training in American Sign Language for coworkers at the University of Washington's Experimental College. The client himself, with the assistance of a co worker who is able to sign, has also taught weekly classes in sign language to interested co workers. Individuals who are hearing impaired have been hired at other sites including the Southwest Oncology Group Statistical Center, and have had an interesting impact on the Department of Human Resources.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center employees

Representatives from the Interpreter Network have taught Human Resource personnel not only sign language basics, but presented classes on the deaf community and culture that has been very helpful, according to Ms. Williams, Employment Training Manager. Much of the communication with these hearing impaired employees is through e-mail when a co-workers sign language is inadequate to the nuances of a data entry project and other work activities. Interpreters from the American Sign Language Network are made available to these employees for trainings and monthly staff meetings. These research units offer ideal opportunities within a prestigious research institution for members of the deaf community, as do the center's infrastructure/support units for those with severe neurological impairments.

Unique Best Practices

  • The value of the non paid 215 hour Department of Labor waiver for community based assessments is more than underscored through the work activities of Mr. Digel and later opportunities provided to clients throughout the Fred Hutchinson campus for purposes of both functional assessment and transition to permanent employment.
  • Vocational exploration and hiring activities at the cancer research center have largely been initiated by middle management. As opposed to a "top down" emphasis on providing opportunities for qualified individuals with disabilities, what has occurred here is more of a "middle management upward" type of disability outreach impetus. The influence of the department managers at both the glassware facility and the Statistical Center for HIV/AIDS Research and Prevention has been profound in influencing Human Resources' perspective. To a degree, this "co opted" several HR personnel into activities external to the work week in support of a Project With Industry and disability hiring outreach within the community. Committed, altruistic business people can be engaged at any contact point -- particularly when they personally experience the benefits of qualified employees with disabilities in the work force.
  • This is also an example of what can happen in an "open work culture" in which informational flow and the opportunity for activities benefiting both the center and the community of those with disabilities is seen as optimal. Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has a very strong employee advisory group that is really "listened to" in the conducting of business and research activities involved in the center's mission. It has a highly educated work force with the latitude to operationalize personnel practices (with HR being informed) that benefit all involved toward the center's mission.

For information regarding this Case Study contact:
Kim Williams
Employment & Training

* Personnel Interviewed: Mr. John Digel, Manager of Glassware Facilities; Ms. Clare Chapdu, Data Manager, Statistical Center for HIV/AIDS Research and Prevention; Ms. Kim Williams, Employment and Training Manager, Department of Human Resources

McMahon, B., Wehman, P., Brooke, V., Habeck, R., Green, H., and Fraser, R. (2004). Business, Disability and Employment: Corporate Models of Success. A Collection of Successful Approaches Reported from 20 Employers. Richmond: Virginia Commonwealth University, Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Workplace Supports and Job Retention.

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