When Merry Korn started her company in 2004, little did she know she’d be providing well-paying jobs to dozens of people with disabilities, especially veterans. From the start, as a former social worker and rehab counselor, she was passionate in her goal to help people with disabilities find work and that passion continues today.
Yet the company, Pearl Interactive Network (Pearl), had somewhat humble beginnings. It launched with one employee, Linda, a former preschool teacher with multiple sclerosis, who could not use her arms or legs, and hadn’t worked in 10 years. An office was set up for Linda in her home and she started selling contracts to associations, using speech-to-text software. “She was a resounding success,” said Korn.
That experience set the precedent. As more contracts came in, Korn was able to hire more people with disabilities who could work from home. Another employee, Tom, a veteran with quadriplegia who hadn’t worked in 29 years, was able to conduct market research and set appointments using the speech-to-text technology. Tom’s enthusiasm inspired Korn and his family. “I got an 8-page handwritten letter from his wife thanking me for giving him a chance,” she recalled. “She said it was the first time in 29 years that we would come home (from work) and Tom would talk about his day.”
Soon Korn’s company didn’t just employ people with disabilities as staffers, but it also used them to recruit for jobs that employed people with disabilities. And the company keeps on growing.
“I hired people with disabilities, initially, because I needed them to stay in their jobs and needed people I could rely on,” she says.
What Pearl does
Right now, 100% of the company’s direct service providers are people with disabilities. About 65% of those are veterans with disabilities. Pearl provides training programs for integrating veterans with disabilities back into the workforce. The company also specializes in inbound and outbound call center services, administrative services and help desk services. Some of the assistive software disabled employees use include JAWS ® (text to speech), Dragon Naturally Speaking (speech to text), ZoomText (enlarges text for people with visual disabilities) and Braille Writer (creates braille text).
Most of the jobs that Pearl has available are home-based, but some of the government jobs are onsite. Overall, Pearl employees with disabilities come from 14 states with 30 to 40 employees working at any given time on various contracts. Korn hopes by year’s end to have about 70 workers as a result of the growing interest in hiring veterans with disabilities.
With these Pearl employees, services are provided to a variety of clients including Pfizer Inc., the Ohio Manufacturers Association, the Ohio Association of Health Plans, End Truancy, Pennsylvania Medicaid, and the National Association of Social Workers.
The company’s growth and many accomplishments over the past 8 years are a direct result of the quality of its employees. “Our formula for success is hiring people who already have the skills,” says Korn. “We get contracts and keep them because of the quality of the service we deliver.” In fact, in a recent survey conducted by Dun and Bradstreet, Pearl received a 95% client satisfaction rating.
Over the years, the company has positioned itself as a leader in recruiting veterans with disabilities. In addition, an increasing number of contracts are coming through requesting veterans with disabilities as workers. In fact, Pfizer’s contract states to exclusively hire veterans with disabilities. “Pfizer is really dedicated to helping service-disabled vets,” adds Korn. As a result, Pearl workers provide administrative services accessing veterans with disabilities nationwide for Pfizer.
Likewise, the Pennsylvania Medicaid contract mandates that because its clientele has disabilities, only people with disabilities should handle the call center work, which Korn adds, “is really enlightening.”
No matter the client or service, Pearl sets itself apart because its business model is flexible to the needs of the employees with disabilities. “We have to be sensitive to the fact that our people have medical issues. They need time off. They need flexibility and they don’t’ feel well some days. So as an employer you have to be really forgiving and work with that,” says Korn. “We are happy to do that.”
Because of that fact, the company prides itself on its minimal attrition, strong motivation and employees with a high skill level.
Skills are so high that Korn says she’s perplexed why many of her employees couldn’t get jobs for several years. “No one wanted to give them a chance, which blows me away… They talk about how grateful they are to me but I’m grateful to them,” says Korn. “I keep coming back to the fact that we’re a business first and foremost, and we need to deliver quality and consistent service. Because they’re so good, they help me achieve that. I am really proud of that fact.”