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#RespectTheAbility Campaign: Spotlight on Embassy Suites by Hilton Omaha-La Vista


Embassy Suites by Hilton Omaha-La Vista is Prime Example of Progress of Jobs for People with Disabilities

a woman with a disability working as a barista offers a customer a coffee as an example of the #RespectTheAbility campaign

Embassy Suites by Hilton Omaha-La Vista

Omaha, Nebraska, Feb. 2 – David Scott is a charismatic Australian immigrant who has been showcasing the American values of opportunity at Embassy Suites by Hilton Omaha-La Vista. The message that he has for the hospitality industry is simple: “Hiring people with disabilities is just simply great for business!”

Indeed, the Embassy Suites Omaha-La Vista in Nebraska has consistently ranked as the only hotel property to have achieved the #1 ranking for quality, service and guest satisfaction three times. Determined to continue this trend, management was faced with the question: How do we keep this momentum going? Their answer came to them when they were approached by their local school district to be a partner as a Project SEARCH host site.

Project SEARCH is an internship program for transitioning students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Students are immersed in the workplace where they participate in three 10-week rotations to learn transferable job skills and explore career options. Project SEARCH was launched in 1997 at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in 1997 as a way to fill high-turnover positions, and help youth with disabilities prepare for adult life. Since then, this model program has grown rapidly to nearly 500 host sites in 48 states and four countries.

Key to Project SEARCH’s success has been their focus on training young people with disabilities for a variety of jobs in growing, high-demand job markets. While Project SEARCH has traditionally focused on placements in healthcare and elder care, hospitality is a growing market with big talent needs. According to business writer Dan Peltier, “Many hoteliers have said there’s a talent gap in the hospitality industry and that hotels are missing key skills.” In 2016, hospitality jobs accounted for a big percentage of job growth. The Department of Labor reported that the hospitality industry accounted for 20 percent of all new U.S. jobs created…for a total of 15.5 million employees.” These types of number mean that there is serious potential for growing the Project SEARCH model.

The Embassy Suites by Hilton Omaha-La Vista, along with its sister properties in other parts of Nebraska, have hosted Project SEARCH sites since 2012 and have won the Embassy Suites brand’s “Make a Difference” Award twice, which is centered around community service. The win demonstrated a great amount of respect and recognition for the program, and the hotel staff was particularly proud of the award.

Other Embassy Suites properties are seeing the difference the program can make to the students, staff and guest experience. In 2016-17, the number of Embassy Suites properties hosting Project SEARCH programs jumped to ten hotels and another five will join them in 2017-18.

While still maintaining the highest brand standards, the staff at Embassy Suites by Hilton Omaha-La Vista have found an experience greater then winning an award: the act of making a difference. At the time of graduation in 2014, all 10 of the students in the program had received permanent employment. The staff and managers of the Embassy Suites by Hilton Omaha-La Vista attended the graduation ceremony and were able to experience first-hand the difference they had made in these students’ lives. They had guided, mentored, and instructed these students, and have helped shape them into respectable candidates for permanent employment.

Because of the way that Project SEARCH participants are trained, they are fully prepared for a wide variety of jobs. Hospitality employers need talented workers to fill jobs in guest services, housekeeping, food services and in administrative roles. Not only do they need talented workers, they need loyal workers. Hospitality is an industry faced by high costs casued by high rates of employee turnover. However, as David Scott knows from his work at Embassy Suites, employees with disabilities are very loyal and dedicated. That means lower costs for the hotelier and a better bottom line for everyone.

For graduating students with disabilities who do not participate in a Project SEARCH program, only one in three will get a job. It is even lower for students on the Autism Spectrum. The sole measure of success for Project SEARCH is achieving competitive employment for program participants within the first 12 months following graduation. The average for all sites is 75 percent employment outcomes.

Bruce Peoples is an example of this success at Project SEARCH. Peoples has worked full-time in the banquet department at the Embassy Suites by Hilton in Omaha-La Vista, Nebraska since May 2013. He helps set up and tear down corporate meetings, wedding receptions, gala fund raisers, exhibitions and a myriad other events. Recently he bought a car with the money he had earned working at the hotel after obtaining his drivers license. Working at the Embassy Suites Hotel instilled a strong confidence in Peoples. He was proud of both accomplishments and made sure to share the news with his fellow staff members at the hotel.

Peoples’ impact on the staff and guests at Embassy Suites and his fellow Project SEARCH students was not something that was anticipated. The original focus of the staff during the SEARCH intern’s time at Embassy Suites was to provide them with appropriate instruction and guidance about the hotel business so they could eventually achieve competitive employment in this field. While the focus was for the interns to grow as prospective employees, the staff ended up growing as people. They were now exposed to individuals with disabilities and discovered all the things they could do, their positive attitude, desire and gratitude to be at work. The interns had low sick days, were always on time and, if shown proper instruction, could work as well as the rest of the staff. The hotel soon noticed a level of comfort the staff had with SEARCH interns. The interns and graduate employees were known by name as individuals and not just “people with disabilities.” This perspective extended to the guests. The Embassy Suites openly informs the guests of the hotel, encouraging them to engage with the Project SEARCH interns. They too discover their abilities and get to know them as individuals.

Peoples was one of the stars of a recent documentary film about the success of the Project SEARCH model and how it fits into a hotel environment. The title of the film is “Work Their Best” which is based on a quote from Peoples’ filmed interview when he shared his advice with prospective employers about hiring people with Autism Spectrum Disorder. He said, “Let them work their best. That would be great for them and they will be grateful for you.”

#RespectTheAbility Success Stories

Download our free toolkit, “Disability Employment First Planning Tool,” for more information.

Meet the Author

Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum is the VP, Communications and Entertainment & News Media, of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so all people with disabilities can fully participate in every aspect of community. As an individual with an acquired nonvisible disability – Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy – she works at the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. She regularly conducts trainings on the why and how to be more inclusive and accessible for entertainment executives throughout the industry. Appelbaum partners with studios, production companies and writers’ rooms to create equitable and accessible opportunities to increase the number of people with lived disability experience throughout the overall story-telling process. These initiatives increase diverse and authentic representation of disabled people on screen, leading to systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities. She has consulted on more than 100 TV episodes and films with A&E, Bunim-Murray Productions, NBCUniversal, Netflix, ViacomCBS, and The Walt Disney Company, among others. She represents RespectAbility on the CAA Full Story Initiative Advisory Council, Disney+ Content Advisory Council, MTV Entertainment Group Culture Code and Sundance Institute’s Allied Organization Initiative. She is the author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit and the creator of an innovative Lab Program for entertainment professionals with disabilities working in development, production and post-production. She is a recipient of the 2020 Roddenberry Foundation Impact Award for this Lab. To reach her, email [email protected]

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