For more than five years, Delaware’s Dover Downs Hotel & Casino has been taking proactive steps to foster a disability-inclusive workplace culture—and it’s been reaping the rewards on every level. The small business’s strategies for success include partnerships with community-based organizations, work experience programs for youth with disabilities and top-down support from the company’s leadership.
One of the executive leaders who has helped set a tone of inclusion at Dover Downs is Peter Bradley, vice president and general manager of casino operations. As a Delaware Business Leadership Network (DEBLN) Board of Directors member, and as Board President of Autism Delaware, Bradley is intimately familiar with disability employment issues. Several years ago, he began educating his own company on the benefits of disability diversity and inspiring his hiring managers to actively recruit, employ and advance workers with disabilities.
One of Dover Downs’ first steps was building a recruitment pipeline of job candidates with disabilities—a goal it accomplished through a partnership with Autism Delaware and its Productive Opportunities for Work & Recreation (POW&R) Program. The POW&R program is a unique community-based initiative, with staff members dedicated to helping adults with autism spectrum disorders find and be successful at employment, volunteer activities and recreation. Through the partnership, Autism Delaware deployed on-site job coaches to Dover Downs to review open positions and the expectations and requirements of the jobs. This led to one young adult with a disability being placed in a Dover Downs job that matched her skill set, and in turn, more and more successful job placements followed. Today, the hotel/casino gainfully employs 12 individuals on the autism spectrum in a variety of capacities. As a result of its positive experience with Autism Delaware, Dover Downs has been partnering with additional service providers and community organizations including the Delaware Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, Easter Seals and Goodwill.
Dover Downs has also embarked on efforts to provide valuable career experiences to youth with disabilities. Together with the Food Bank of Delaware, the hotel/casino has offered a “Career Exploration” summer camp for kids with disabilities who are transitioning out of school. Through this, and related programs for youth, Dover Downs has been able to offer participants either summer jobs, or the opportunity for youth with disabilities to “try out” a particular job on a temporary basis. This has allowed partnering agencies to better formulate training plans for their clients with the eventual goal of full-time employment. Dover Downs is also planning a program for high school seniors with hidden disabilities to assist them in preparing for the working world after graduation.
Dover Downs credits its affiliation with the DEBLN with its success in the area of knowledge sharing around disability employment issues. Through peer-to-peer networking, the BLN has offered the business the opportunity to share information, approaches and successful programs with like-minded companies that are committed to including disability in their diversity and inclusion efforts.
“For Dover Downs, the employment of individuals with disabilities has been a win/win,” says Bradley. “We have gained highly productive, reliable employees through the practice—all with fairly minor adjustments or changes to the way we operate. We are proud of our wonderful management team, which has embraced the program and contributed greatly to its success.”