The Lancaster Chamber strives to provide opportunity for local business and community leaders to share their insight and perspective on a variety of current topics.
This Words That Activate Change series is focused on uplifting voices in our community that encourage dialogue, cultivate transformation, offer thought-provoking ideas, and challenge all of us to be better, be stronger, and, most importantly, be advocates for systemic change within both our community and our workforce.
Our seventh article is by Bill Kepner. Bill has over 40 years of experience in many areas of healthcare mostly as a Senior Manager/Executive. Bill joined United Disabilities Services headquartered in Lancaster, PA as their COO in 2007 and became their CEO in 2010. Previously, Bill was a Board member and Board President for ten years in two separate Board stints with them. United Disabilities Services Foundation provides home and community based services that enhance the independence and enrich the lives of seniors and individuals with disabilities including veterans. Through five separate entities, UDSF provides fifteen programs and services to over 7500 consumers in all counties in the Commonwealth. Prior to UDS, Bill was the Chief Operating Officer for the Inglis Foundation in Philadelphia from 2004-2007 where he was responsible for their Home and Community Based Services including a Housing Corporation, which was very successful in transitioning severely disabled clients from the nursing home to the community, an Adult Day Program, a Durable Medical Equipment company, an At Home Attendant Care Services and Employment Services. Besides extensive experience in serving the disabled community, Bill also has strong experience in working with seniors as the CEO for the Kairos Foundation for three years and for more than twenty years (1979 -1999), Bill held a variety of management positions with Homedco, later becoming Apria Healthcare. Bill was the Regional Vice President overseeing all Sales and Operations for the Mid-Atlantic Region, a $72 million business covering five states with 23 branches which served 10,000 home medical customers through a network of 700+ employees. Apria Healthcare was the nation’s largest provider of DME, Oxygen and home infusion therapy. In 2000 Bill founded Healthy Business Solutions, a healthcare consulting company specializing in building successful selling organizations by effectively linking sales and operations. He used this experience to form NonProfit Management Solutions in 2012, a nonprofit consulting company designed to assist small nonprofits manage risk, compliance and maintain sustainability.
A Call To Advocate For Better Inclusion Of People With Disabilities
By Bill Kepner
Imagine you have a physical disability and use a wheelchair. Your friends invite you to try a new restaurant downtown. You are excited to meet them and show up finding out there is no wheelchair-accessible entrance. Lack of wheelchair accessibility throughout businesses, restaurants and stores in our community still occurs.
If we really want to discuss diversity, inclusion and advocacy to make the Lancaster community stronger, then we must include those often forgotten: people with disabilities (PWD). First we must learn how to communicate appropriately with them and about them. Treat them like adults. Speak directly to them. When referring to them, emphasize the individual not the disability. Emphasize abilities not limitations. Avoid labeling them and putting them in categories, as in the handicapped, the disabled, etc. We need to emphasize the uniqueness and value of all people rather than the difference between people to stop the “one of them” versus “one of us” that restricts acceptance between individuals.
There are so many hurdles for PWD as they battle discrimination and work towards equal rights. These hurdles are found in education, employment, healthcare, housing, technology, transportation and even in practicing their faith. For sake of space I will briefly address two of these critical areas: employment and healthcare.
At United Disabilities Services, we have an employment services program and know that people with disabilities are great employees. They appreciate the work opportunities they are given and are very dedicated and loyal. Unfortunately they are overlooked and/or discounted due to perceived limitations, without their abilities taken into account, which creates an obvious barrier to gaining meaningful jobs. In Lancaster County, 11.8% of the total population has a disability but they only make up 5% of our labor force. Michael Anderson is a great example of what can be done when someone is given a chance. He said: ”People told me I can’t be part of the workforce because my disabilities are too severe and I am unemployable. However, I am now the Legislative Advocate for the ARC of PA. I am just differently abled and I do a great job.”
He was given the chance and is a great success story. We need Lancaster County employers to help create more success stories like these. I like the idea of additional tax credits as incentives to employers who hire people with disabilities. There should be consideration for improving local transportation to assist people with disabilities to get to the workplace. One of our sister counties has an opportunity for a business to hire 50 to 75 people with disabilities and pay them a living wage, but, being in a somewhat remote area, can’t figure out transportation. We need to do better than that.
Healthcare is another huge hurdle. People with disabilities experience a much different world of healthcare and, in particular, practical challenges to accessing the same health care that most of us take for granted. 32% of persons with disabilities perceive their health status as poor versus 6% of the total population. Much of this is due to decreased access to care and in particular, preventative care. Accessibility and transportation play a huge role in the difficulties people with disabilities face. To complete one doctor’s appointment can take an entire day due to transportation timing and availability. For preventative care, accessibility is still an issue with narrow hallways and floor space, alarm systems that can’t be seen and heard, videos without captioning, using examination tables, MRI, CT scan and mammography equipment and dental chairs, so people with disabilities unfortunately go without this important care. We need our local healthcare providers to evaluate the physical, attitudinal, expertise and systematic barriers to improve greater accessibility, leading to better health outcomes and a better quality of life.
Although I only briefly touched on the challenges facing people with disabilities, my hope is I have given you some food for thought about advocating for them. The advocacy I am talking about is collaboration with local government, local businesses, folks within the disability community and other willing advocates to brainstorm ideas and create innovative solutions to help people with disabilities live their best possible lives. I am personally willing to be part of any local task force that wants to take on some of the challenges I described and truly activate change. Together we can make Lancaster stronger and better.
Catch up on other articles in this series:
The Lancaster Chamber is also sourcing inclusivity & anti-racism training and hosting conversations on diversity, equity and inclusion with a focus on action. We are committed to making changes within our own organization to better serve everyone in Lancaster County.