Ernst & Young received the U.S. Department of Labor's prestigious New Freedom Initiative award this week, which honors corporations, non-profits, individuals and small businesses for their efforts to further the employment and workplace environment for people with disabilities.

The Office of Disabilities Employment Policy (ODEP) coordinates the annual New Freedom Initiative Awards program which was introduced by President George W. Bush in 2001. The New Freedom Initiative is a government-wide effort to accelerate the full inclusion of people with disabilities into mainstream American life.

"The examples and best practices that we highlight today will hopefully provide insight and ideas for different strategies to help Americans with disabilities become fulfilled, contributing members of our workforce," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao.

Ernst & Young has a long legacy of integrating people with disabilities into its workplace. One of the firm's founders, Arthur Young, was deaf. Today, the organization understands that a diverse, inclusive workforce is critical to attracting and retaining top talent, particularly in the highly competitive professional services industry. To promote inclusiveness of people with disabilities, Ernst & Young established the AccessAbilities network, which aims to foster a disability-aware corporate culture and an empowering environment in which every individual can reach his or her full potential.

"We are honored to receive Secretary Chao's New Freedom Initiative award and to be considered a leading organization around disability inclusiveness," noted Billie Williamson, Ernst & Young's Americas Inclusiveness Officer. "It seems especially fitting, during National Disability Employment Awareness Month, that we were able to come together with other leading companies, non-profits, and individuals to not only celebrate the work being done to support people with disabilities, but to continue to advance these important efforts."

Through Ernst & Young's AccessAbilities network, the firm has nearly 300 people dedicated to promoting disability inclusiveness. It has also gone above and beyond Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance by improving existing office accessibility and incorporating accessibility into standards for new construction. The AccessAbilities network provides coaching and mentoring and members distribute quick-guides for all Ernst & Young people on topics such as disabilities etiquette and how to be inclusive. The firm also provides leading-edge technology and communications solutions to help employees with disabilities to perform their jobs more efficiently.

To promote awareness of opportunities at the firm for qualified people with disabilities , Ernst & Young capitalizes on the services of disability organizations, including the Employee Assistance and Recruitment Network (EARN) and disability-oriented Web sites. It also supports several internship programs for students with disabilities.

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