In response to The New York Times op-ed, My Blind Spot’s Albert J. Rizzi says Ted Kennedy Jr.’s recommendations for true inclusion need to include digital equity in the 21st century workforce.
On December 27th, former Connecticut State Senator and board member of the American Association of People with Disabilities, Ted Kennedy Jr. wrote an op-ed in The New York Times “Hiring People With Disabilities Is Good Business” highlighting the importance of hiring people with disabilities, praising the work of those organizations that have proactively committed to inclusive hiring and reaped the rewards of doing so. I whole-heartedly agree with his conclusions.
Like Kennedy, I joined the disability movement and community later in life, after an unexpected illness left me totally blind. I happen to be a bit of an over-achiever that way, all or nothing. Like him, I never equated the disability movement as a civil rights issue. Admittedly, I never thought about the disability community before. People with a disability were my friends and my family and, as a community, they seemed to be okay just where they were.
I agree with his conclusion that millions of Americans with a disability are being left out of daily life but challenge him to consider that the global community of people with disabilities is a population that is greater than China’s. We cannot be myopic in thinking this is just an American issue; it is a global movement that impacts no less than 1.4 billion people and their 2.3 billion friends and family.
I also agree that, as we head into the new year, we must recognize how far we’ve come as a society and a community of people but, as the he says, “when it comes to employment, a cornerstone of the American dream, we have failed to live up to the promise of this historic law.”
However, I feel Kennedy has not gone deep enough in offering a solution to the problems confronted by the disability community when it comes to ensuring Ability is included alongside Race, Gender, Orientation, and Religion as celebrated diversity groups in both our social and corporate cultures. I believe the solution is simple and one that the entire world is inextricably tied to in the 21st century, digital equity and inclusive design.
Thanks to technologies, the disability community can execute in our schools, in our work places, and in life as never before. However, many employers have yet to recognize that people with disabilities can contribute economically if the virtual barriers present today in our digital society were removed.
Much as the ground-breaking Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) did for access to physical public forums, positively impacting people of all abilities with the ease of access to buildings and such, our global society needs to ensure that those same beacons of hope and true inclusion are baked into our virtual worlds, software programs, and digitized communications. At My Blind Spot, we have a mantra, “Access to the right tools promotes ability and restores infinite possibilities.” With the advent of technologies, easily manipulated by voice commands, head movements, or eye movements, there is no good reason why in 2019 people who happen to have a disability or need help because of aging, should be barred from using technologies as adeptly and seamlessly as their peers.
Corporations and organizations invest in the best and the greatest technologies but fall short of maximizing that investment by not ensuring that those technologies are equitable and designed to be as fully functional and usable as they can be.
Once I was able to walk again and navigate life with a new-found vision for all things possible, I immediately set my sights on going back to work and being a productive and valued member of society. However, what I found was that the digital world was “disabled” to me, yet I was the one being called disabled. Today, capable, intelligent, well-educated professionals who just happen to have a disability are forced to face numerous challenges in entering, maintaining, and growing in careers of our choosing.
CEO’s and the CIO’s of the world are misguided if they believe that their current employees with a disability (or seasoned employees aging into that group) can get by with the technological status quo. Further, they are wrong if they think that the disability market is not where their current and future customers are.
Corporations that ignore employees or consumers aging into the disability community run the risk of decreased productivity and revenues and cut themselves off from a pool of professional candidates that have been known to increase bottom lines, build brand image, and improve morale. By simply catering to those dedicated employees and loyal consumers, by default, they will tap into a market that has been historically ignored and undervalued for centuries.
By acknowledging the disability community as a market base, organizations gain access to nearly $5 trillion (US) in discretionary spending power within North America and $175 billion (US) in disposable income. This also includes the benefits in hiring these people as valued employees, providing companies fresh insights into developing and marketing products and services that meet the needs and preferences of consumers of all abilities.
As Mr. Kennedy noted, the Office of Disability Employment Policy concluded that the disability community is the third largest market segment in the United States. Once companies are aware of these potential economic benefits of the spending power and professional value the community possesses, they should be motivated to bring persons with disabilities into the workforce to thrive as never before and be catered to as loyal consumers.
Merely participating in the Disability Equality Index is not enough. The DEI needs to, without exception, include digital equity and inclusive design as a benchmark for determining how disability ready or friendly their membership is or is not. Without access to technologies, all of us are dead in the water. Is that being productive? Is it the best way to maximize investments or grow a business, brand image, or revenue streams? NO!
For decades, society thought that focusing on corporate social responsibility was enough. I can personally and professionally assure you, it is not. Investing in a community of people with talent, education, and spending power is a fantastic business model that also just happens to have a social responsibility twist to it.
Our corporate society needs to maximize investments in technologies, demand and seek out professionals proficient and certified as accessibility subject matter experts in order to ensure barrier free access to digital platforms, which allow people who are blind, low vision, aging, and print disabled to thrive. In doing this, corporations will build revenues and increase productivity. In addressing this, they also fulfill their social responsibility as corporate citizens by helping people with a disability who want to be taxpayers instead of tax dependents.