photos of three faces: a white woman with blonde hair in front of the Chicago flag, a white man with brown hair in a suit and a woman with dark brown hair.

Hiring People with Disabilities: the Chicago Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities, RUSH University Medical Center and Shirley Ryan AbilityLab


On July 26, 2022, the 32nd anniversary of the signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot opened the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) Career Center. The MOPD Career Center supports both job seekers with disabilities and employers that want to increase inclusive hiring practices. The center has helped more than 70 people with disabilities find employment. 

A $1.2 million investment from the City of Chicago allowed the center to hire a program director, five career placement counselors and a sign language interpreter to support job seekers who are deaf or hard of hearing. It also offers benefits counseling for people receiving federal, state and local benefits and who want to work. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the more than 15 million people with disabilities of working age in the United States, in September 2023, 7.8% were unemployed compared to just 3.5% of people of working age without disabilities.   

Christina McGleam, Deputy Commissioner, MOPD, says that in 2020 and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the MOPD received numerous calls from employers asking where to find people with disabilities to fill some of their roles. During the pandemic, tens of millions of people left their jobs as shelter-in-place orders were issued and people feared catching the virus. “We’ve always gotten calls from job seekers, but at this time we were getting calls from employers,” says McGleam. “MPOD Commissioner Rachel Arfa pitched the idea for a dedicated career center to Mayor Lightfoot and got her support.”

The MOPD Career Center serves Chicago residents who are at least 16 years old and identify as having a disability. “Over the past year it has been great to see the impact of our center on people of diverse ages, races and disabilities. As someone with a disability, I have a strong understanding of the barriers that people with disabilities face to gain meaningful employment,” says McGleam, who is visually impaired and has a guide dog. “I am energized by the investment made by the City of Chicago in the MOPD Career Center to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities.”

When people come to the MOPD Career Center, they go through an intake process and work with a career placement counselor. “Clients discuss their short- and long-term goals, we do career readiness evaluations, work on resume building, practice interviewing skills, assist with completing job applications and help connect job seekers to companies that are looking to build on their inclusive hiring practices and want to hire people with disabilities,” says McGleam. 

One of the employers the MOPD Career Center works with is RUSH University Medical Center, which, like the MOPD, is located on Chicago’s West Side. McGleam has helped connect job seekers to RUSH through Kevin Irvine, whose efforts have led to RUSH being recognized by Disability:IN as a “Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion” for the fifth consecutive year. Disability:IN is a global organization that works to promote disability inclusion and equality in business.


three photos: a white woman with blonde hair, a man with brown hair and a woman with dark brown hair

PHOTO: Left to right: Christina McGleam, Deputy Commissioner, Chicago Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities; Kevin Irvine, Senior Talent Acquisition Consultant, RUSH University Medical Center; Maya Yuen, Manager, Robert R. McCormick Foundation Center for Hope & Equity at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.


Irvine has worked as a senior talent acquisition consultant at RUSH since 2018 and is co-chair of the RUSH ADA Task Force and founder of RUSH’s Disabilities Employee Resource Group. He is among Crain’s 2022 list of Notable Executives in HR and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

While he works on the recruitment team at RUSH, Irvine’s background is in disability rights and advocacy training, not human resources. Prior to joining RUSH, Irvine worked with Equip for Equality doing advocacy and training work and helping people with disabilities understand their employment rights and how to advocate for themselves. He left his job after he and his wife adopted their daughter, who has multiple disabilities, and became a stay-at-home-dad while his daughter underwent multiple surgeries. As his daughter got older and needed less support, Irvine saw the posting for his job at RUSH and knew he’d make a great candidate. 

Irvine also identifies as a person with disabilities, and includes it in his email signature right underneath his pronouns: “My disabilities: HIV, Hemophilia B.” 

“My role at RUSH is unique because I’m a recruiter but I’m not recruiting for any specific role,” says Irvine. His directive, in a nutshell, is to elevate people with disabilities, chronic physical and mental health conditions, veterans and transgender and gender-diverse people to hiring managers as part of RUSH’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiative. He also plays a key role in supporting RUSH’s mission to hire applicants from neighborhoods on the West Side, many of whom are people of color.

 In Chicago, there are roughly 300,000 people with disabilities, two-thirds of whom are people of color. 

Eighteen percent of RUSH hires in 2023 are West Side residents. Last year, Rush hired 165 people with disabilities, up from 98 the year before. “This number has gone up every year since I started at RUSH,” Irvine says.  

A lot of what Irvine does is help ‘boost the signal’ for people with disabilities when it comes to the application and hiring process. He assists with securing accommodations for job interviews if needed, facilitates the application process, and reaches out to other recruiters to make sure they see applications from a diverse range of candidates. “If I see a candidate apply that might be better for another job, or for a position that I know is about to get filled, I might work with that candidate to identify other opportunities they may be a good fit for,” he explains.

RUSH gets between nine and 12 thousand applications in any given month, estimates Irvine, and about five to six percent of those applications are from people who self-identify as having a disability.

“Most disabled job seekers want to go someplace where they feel they will be valued for all aspects of who they are, including their disability,” says Irvine. 

Irvine is passionate about ensuring that the staff at RUSH is reflective of the patients and communities RUSH serves. “When you talk about RUSH as an academic healthcare system, having people with lived experience with disabilities and chronic health conditions as part of our staff is invaluable because then our patients see someone like them that maybe they can relate to on the other side of the stethoscope, or the counter or whatever it may be. Someone who may have experienced what it’s like to not feel heard or seen or respected when they go in for health care, so to see someone like that working at the hospital sends a message that at RUSH, we see you and we’re here too. People with disabilities are everywhere, why wouldn’t they be part of the staff?”

While Irvine is cognizant of the important message it sends to patients to see people with disabilities working at the hospital, he has taken intentional steps to make sure that message is sent to potential job applicants and hiring staff. 

“I make sure we feature hires with disabilities on our career webpage because I want to show job seekers that people who work at RUSH have disclosed that they have a disability, or they have a visible disability and that the applicant won’t be the ‘pioneer,’ the first one going in and saying I have a disability,” Irvine says. “Internally, I wanted to get the message to our hiring managers that when we say we’re hiring people with disabilities, we’re not just talking about some exotic species out there in the wild, we’re talking about people who are already here every day.”

Irvine explains that RUSH’s commitment to attracting, hiring and retaining people with disabilities is wide and deep and it comes from the top. “Our institutional leaders are strongly committed to this which makes my job much easier. Organizations that don’t have that top level of commitment – it’s a different story, a much tougher hill to climb.”

Shirley Ryan AbilityLab also works closely with the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, says Maya Yuen, manager of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation Center for Hope & Equity. The Center was established at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in 2023 with a $3 million gift from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. The Center has several initiatives, including providing low-income patients with supportive resources after discharge, exposing more students from underserved communities to careers in science and technology and recruiting a more diverse workforce at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, including people with disabilities.

“We have a strong relationship with the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities,” says Yuen. MOPD job coaches often send resumes to Shirley Ryan AbilityLab on behalf of their job seekers. “If you’re an external candidate, applying on your own, you may not have a connection with us, but because of our relationship with MOPD, applicants come with an automatic connection to us, and we help to directly connect those candidates to the right hiring manager,” explains Yuen.

In addition to working directly with MOPD job coaches and counselors, Yuen participates in career fairs with the MOPD and networks extensively with business leaders and other organizations in the disability community to identify potential job candidates and to expand Shirley Ryan AbilityLab’s roster of business partners that hire people with disabilities who receive vocational rehabilitation services at the hospital.

“Our aim is to give jobseekers the tools to succeed in their previous jobs or under new employment and we do this by collaborating closely with both the candidate and the employer to find the right solutions for both parties,” explains Yuen. 

Shirley Ryan AbilityLab seeks a diverse workforce to foster new ideas and boost innovation. This includes hiring candidates from a variety of backgrounds and abilities.  “The aim of our hiring practices is to have a workforce that also matches our patient population so that we can achieve the best possible outcomes,” says Yuen.