In case you were unaware, October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, as designated by the Federal Government and recognized by state and local governments.
Yet most savvy employers should already know by now that fostering workplace diversity and inclusion for all simply makes good business sense, especially in the 21st century. The business community ought to be aware every month of the year that disability employment helps boost bottom line productivity, bring diverse viewpoints to the table, and expand a company’s customer base. This is true from Main Street to Wall Street, from small and mid-sized businesses to Corporate America.
Talent is a terrible thing to waste
Employers everywhere should understand that people with disabilities represent a vast pool of untapped talent. First and foremost in today’s global marketplace, human capital resources must be allocated based on individual talent and ability alone. That is, assuming companies want to thrive and remain competitive in an increasingly diverse labor force with increasingly diverse consumers. This is especially important in a struggling economy where talent is a terrible thing for any employer to ignore or waste because of disability discrimination.
It should not matter from whom or where employee talent derives. Ability is what counts most, and it should never be ruled out by employers simply because a person happens to have a physical or mental impairment. Disability does not mean inability.
To the contrary, well qualified employees with disabilities usually work harder, smarter and are more productive and loyal than their co-workers because of the high hurdles they must overcome to secure employment.
Negative attitudes remain prevelant
Discriminatory employment practices are unlawful and have no place in the American workplace. Yet 22 years after passage of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities are still too often treated as second class citizens.
The fact is that qualified job applicants with disabilities can be found everywhere in every industry nationwide. Employers need to fine tune and adjust their recruitment practices or risk missing out on key talent.
People with disabilities are ready, willing, eager and able to work successfully, all they need is an equal opportunity. Yet negative attitudes toward people with disabilities are still prevelant in too many workplaces. Such attitudes may prevent disabled individuals from having a chance to reach their full potential. Again, the focus should be on one’s ability alone.
As legendary presidential campaign manager James Carville might say: It‘s the ABILITY — stupid!
Bringing unique skill sets to the workplace
According to a July 2012 study by the U.S. Census Bureau, “Current Population Reports: Americans with Disabilities”:
“The population of people with disabilities inhabit a distinct position in the U.S. economy, both for their contributions to the marketplace and roles in government policies and programs.
People with disabilities bring unique sets of skills to the workplace, enhancing the strength and diversity of the U.S. labor market. In addition, they make up a significant market of consumers, representing more than $200 billion in discretionary spending and spurring technological innovation and entrepreneurship.”
Disabilities affect people from all walks of life
The aforementioned Census Bureau study found that, “About 56.7 million people — 19 percent of the population — had a disability in 2010…with more than half of them reporting the disability was severe.”
Moreover, people with disabilities are half as likely to have jobs as non-disabled individuals. According to the Census Bureau: “41 percent of those age 21 to 64 with any disability were employed, compared with 79 percent of those with no disability. Along with the lower likelihood of having a job came the higher likelihood of experiencing persistent poverty.”
It’s also important to consider that:
1) Disabilities affect people of every race, color, gender, age and national origin – a huge swath of the U.S. population.
2) Minorities and women with disabilities may face a double dose of discrimination.
3) Most of us are likely to experience a temporary or permanent disability at some point during our lives — whether it’s severe back pain, a broken bone, clinical depression, or a host of neurological impairments.
4) Disability protections extend to both physical and mental impairments. Therefore, just because one’s disability may not be physically recognizable does not mean it is non-existant or unprotected.
According to the online resource Disabled-World.com: “Disabilities affect Americans of all walks of life — from famous Hollywood stars to small town military heroes.” In other words, no one is immune from having a disability. Moreover, despite societal barriers, people with disabilities have proven time and again that they can excel in their field of choice if provided an equal opportunity.
“A strong workforce is an inclusive workforce”
October’s annual observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). This year’s theme is:
“A Strong Workforce is an inclusive workforce: What can YOU do?”
According to DOL/ODEP: “National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is a national campaign that raises awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. NDEAM’s roots go back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.
In 1962, the word ‘physically’ was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Upon its establishment in 2001, ODEP assumed responsibility for NDEAM and has worked to expand its reach and scope ever since.”
Leveling the playing field
To reiterate, all employers would be wise to remember that decisions regarding individuals with disabilities must be based on talent, ability and merit — not unfounded biases, myths, fears, and stereotypes.
People with disabilities, like all Americans, deserve equal opportunities to compete and advance on a level playing field — one without discriminatory barriers. Everyone in our great Nation should have the freedom to rise up as high as their God-given talents and abilities will take them, regardless of disability status.
This fundamental principle of equal opportunity for all represents the very essence of the American Dream. This principle is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, which states that all individuals have “unalienable rights” to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” — including people with disabilities.
QUESTION: What is your organization doing to boost awareness of disability employment — including recruitment, hiring, training, advancement, and retention?
(Credit: U.S. Library of Congress)
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* All views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only.