Beyond our Barriers, creating accessibility in the job search

Small businesses are key to the community’s health, and in this case, also to their careers when it comes to fighting the traditional hiring process.
 
Beyond Our Barriers (BOB) is an online directory and concierge service to employees with disabilities and employers looking to hire them. It was founded in September of 2015 by Justin Caine, entrepreneur and person with disability himself, and is based in the Lansing area.
 
It aims to assist a broad array of disabilities that people can have, from asthma, to missing or nonfunctional limbs, to inability to communicate verbally, and have employers go beyond their surface-level appearance and ultimately show of each person’s inner strengths to them. “I found that the biggest issue isn’t access to people with disabilities, but knowledge of how to hire them while accommodating their individual needs that might not be familiar to employers,” says Caine, and has been adjusting the BOB website over the past year to accommodate that. While BOB can’t provide every step in the hiring process, it can provide information on places where employers can learn about and take these steps to hire and accommodate employees.
 
Depending on each person, BOB’s accommodations can vary. Not all candidates require a video resume where a written one will display the person’s qualities effectively, and not all can do a traditional interview and must have a different type arranged for them. BOB separates candidates into three levels, or types in order to best determine how to approach creating or working with their application: (1) physical issues with no communication problems; (2) requires an in-depth accommodation that is expensive or hard to understand from the outside; and (3), communication issues, with or without physical problems.
 
When he was only 10-years-old because of a cancerous tumor in his brain, nearly killing him and leaving him with physical and cognitive disabilities from that point forward. After graduating college, he struggled to find a job and created his own in response. He founded Good Fruit Video, a video marketing company, in 2009 and is still running it today. Caine says, “I wouldn’t call myself a super successful business owner,” and that his success only proves that it is incredibly difficult for people with disabilities to find work on their own without having to create spaces for themselves, and that simply isn’t possible for everyone. This ultimately led to the creation of his second business, Beyond Our Barriers, in 2015.
 
Caine finds continuing support from his family, especially his wife Meaghan and three-year-old daughter Felicity, as he continues to expand both Beyond Our Barriers and Good Fruit Video. This support and enthusiasm has led to him training for the 2020 Paralympics in long jump, shot put, and discus. He hopes that his two businesses will be able to sponsor him when the time comes.
 
The Beyond Our Barriers logo in particular is very distinct and emphasizes the vision of the company. It has the two Bs mirroring each other and pulling the O, a chain link, apart and breaking it. The creation of the logo was a collaboration between Caine and his brother, meant to represent the invisible chains on applicants with disabilities that hinder them from getting the jobs and careers they excel at. The website expresses its aim to break them to show a person’s true potential once unhindered by the barriers of stigma and lack of accommodating features at work.
 
Caine makes it clear that he doesn’t want companies to hire the applicants on his website because it’s the “right” or “charitable” thing to do; he wants them to hire them because they’re the most qualified for the position. “These are very hard workers,” Caine says, “I want them to be hired because it’s the smart thing for an employer to do.”
 
Good Fruit Video being a full-time job, Caine says he hasn’t been able to put a lot of time that he wants to into BOB. That said, there are currently 29 applicant profiles available for employers to look through and four job opportunities listed on the website. In the next six months, he aims to hire more employees to help run the website and work with both the employers and potential employees using it. “What’s most important is making sure that the hires are successful, says Caine when asked about the success of his business.
 
There are other government and private organizations helping people with disabilities get jobs, but not all of them have great marketing and so businesses don’t know about them. Not to mention, more is always better when it comes to resources to help the local and larger communities. For instance, Lansing Promise is a scholarship program that helps local students to help them attend LCC or MSU, and BOB intends to work with them in the future to continue that effort and extend it to students with disabilities as well.
 
The original purpose was for BOB to be a tool to help individuals and organizations gauge skills more than a paper resume and traditional interview would. But after this past year of growing this business and learning, the current purpose is now to help employers fine employees, rather than other way around. In the future, the goal is to make it an educational portal for the entire business community in Lansing against stigma.

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Brittany Boza is a freelance writer for Capital Gains. 

Photos © Dave Trumpie
 
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
 
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