October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NEAM) and the theme this year is “The Right Talent, Right Now.”
Recent data reports that the national employment rate in the United States currently hovers between 96-97 percent. That’s almost full employment. Yet the employment rate for people with disabilities hovers around 32 percent. That is absolutely unacceptable.
Employers in all sectors of the economy are looking for people to fill positions. The longer they wait to fill the positions, the less opportunity they have to deliver their products and services. That means less opportunity to make a profit or to serve customers.
They are looking for the right talent, right now. Yet they continue to miss the solution that is right under their noses.
National Disability Employment Awareness Month provides a clarion call to Corporate America to look at a cohort of the workforce that is ready, willing, and able to work. I invite them to look at these individuals for their abilities and not through a lens of limitations that have been socially imposed for millennia.
A person with a disability has every right to enjoy gainful employment with upward mobility just as every other American currently enjoys in this banner year of employment statistics. Individuals that happen to use adaptive devices to execute in the workplace are barred from moving them from being taxing dependents, reliant on public assistance. They are not afforded barrier-free digital access to technologies, software programs, and digital offerings that would allow them to instead become independent taxpayers. Simple digital codes introduced to digital platforms and offerings, and reasonable adaptations to our work environments will go a long way to move the unemployment needle for the disability community. It will move us toward mirroring the employment rates being enjoyed by the 96 percent of people currently employed and not reliant on public assistance, Social Security, or handouts.
My adept, skilled, and well-educated peers from the disability community are just waiting for Corporate America to welcome them with open arms and digital platforms that are inclusive.
Employers should not hire people who happen to have a disability just because it is a great public relations story, but they should hire people with disabilities because it is the right thing to do for their business. We often hear lip service paid to Diversity and Inclusion (D&I), yet there are very few executives responsible for D&I who can say their companies include Ability alongside Gender, Race, Orientation, and Religion as celebrated diversity groups. Authentic inclusion in the 21st century must be a non-negotiable and people should not be denied access to gainful employment, education, or careers promising upward mobility because of where they fall within the Ability spectrum.
Employers should not hire people who happen to have a disability just because it’s the right thing to do, even though it is. Unfortunately, many well-educated and skilled professionals who have a visual, hearing, or mobility impairment are barred from using nearly 80 percent of those digital platforms, software programs, and sometimes even hardware used by corporations across the United States. This again is due to poorly coded and designed platforms as well as a socially imposed, unconscious bias, rejection, and prejudice.
The very real digital divide that people with disabilities experience precludes millions of us from even completing an application for employment online. Inaccessible and unusable job application portals are coupled with the silent but obvious prejudice and discriminatory practices of “passing” on the person who is blind, paralyzed, or deaf, because ignorance abounds. Most HR executives have no clue how to embrace and celebrate the disability community, let alone determine how to make their corporations disability-ready or friendly.
Because of this and, given the decades of businesses ignoring the laws and best practices for digital equity, we get discouraged and give up. After fruitless searches, we oftentimes self-exile ourselves to a life of suffering in unemployment with our only hope being public assistance.
Hiring people who happen to have a disability is good for business and has a huge return on that investment in human capital, which has been proven time and time again. A recent study explaining that D&I policies lack focus on people with disabilities is fodder enough for there to be a cosmic change from the boardroom to the mailroom, demonstrating how all would benefit from infusing authentic inclusion into the DNA of corporate cultures. People who happen to have a disability tend to be the most loyal and cost-effective members of an organization.
Hiring a person who has a disability is not without its challenges. This has nothing to do with the person and their disability but is more due to the current “able-bodied” HR and Legal departments that refuse to see us as valued contributors to anything, let alone the workforce. Companies need to look past the long-held, antiquated myths and misperceptions about people with disabilities. We are your sisters and your brothers, your mothers and your fathers, your spouses and your children. We are your friends.
Recently, I wrote about how the inclusion of a pivotal character with a disability in the show “Downton Abbey” accentuated the real need for National Disability Employment Awareness Month. In my blog, I put the spotlight on the character of Mr. Bates who despite his ability, loyalty, and humor, faced pity and ridicule from his employer and coworkers because of the way he walked. He proved himself to be an invaluable member to them and to millions of viewers around the world. All anyone needs, including those of us with a disability, is a fighting chance.
If you happen to agree with me, and if this resonates within you, please pass this along to do your part to celebrate and support National Disability Employment Awareness Month. But if you are really motivated to do something, try sitting down with your HR department and, aside from demanding they commit to authentic inclusion and digital equity, give them my contact information; I can take things from there! My phone number is (212) 363-0330. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please help the team at My Blind Spot educate Corporate America about the ins and outs of authentic inclusion and put an end to ignoring tens of millions of people who are experiencing decades of unemployment and underemployment rates hovering around 70%! Barring individuals from employment and the pursuit of the American dream is not acceptable and is certainly not “American” at all.