A Point of View: Why Is Disability So Late to the Diversity Party: More Importantly, What Do We Do About It?

by Deborah Dagit, Deb Dagit Diversity
A Point of View: Why Is Disability So Late to the Diversity Party: More Importantly, What Do We Do About It?

Over the Summer I had mixed feelings as I attended various events celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We have made a lot of progress since I accepted my first diversity leadership role in the early 90’s. It was like a trip down memory lane to see the social justice/civil rights history of our movement on display in a new disability rights mobile museum when it was parked in our nation’s Capitol and various other major cities. (If you would like to see the museum you can check out when it will be in your vicinity.)

I had the privilege of playing a small role in the disability rights movement, and was therefore invited to be in the audience the day President George H.W. Bush Senior signed the historic ADA legislation on the South Lawn of the White House with more than 2,000 advocates cheering. While there has been a lot of progress made in overcoming attitudinal and environmental barriers to achieving the American dream of economic empowerment and full participation in all aspects of being free and independent in our society for people with disabilities, one critical component has eluded us, meaningful competitive employment. The unemployment rate of people with disabilities remains unacceptably high at 10.4 percent, and this does not include the many people who have given up on finding a job and therefore are not being counted. This is essentially the same as it was 25 years ago.

That said, I am more optimistic than ever that our community will finally be fully included in corporate diversity and inclusion priorities, largely due to recently enacted legislation. Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, seems to be getting employers attention with self identification requirements and a 7 percent aspirational representation goal across all job groups for Federal Contractors. This refresh of public policy, as well as a gradual shift in our collective interest in this topic due to Baby Boomers seeing the personal/familial and professional benefits of disability inclusive practices – and Millennials who are accustomed to full disability inclusion, flexing their might as talent and customers, momentum is building.

Many clients and colleagues tell me that the primary reasons they believe disability is late to the diversity party are that companies are:

  • Unable to find qualified talent with disabilities
  • Concerned about disability etiquette
  • Not sure how to get 75% of individuals with non-apparent disabilities to self identify

So to help with these primary questions I offer the following…

Great sources for finding talent with diverse abilities include:

  1. Talent Acquisition Portal:  https://tapability.org
  2. Getting Hired:  http://www.gettinghired.com (Job Board and Webinars)
  3. Ability Links:  http://www.abilitylinks.org/web/Job-Portal/Employers.htm
  4. Bender Consulting:  http://www.benderconsult.com/our%20services/bender-virtual-career-fair-people-disabilities(virtual job fairs and temp/contract to perm candidate placements)
  5. Our Ability:  http://www.ourability.com (“LinkedIn” type of Job Board)

It is also important to remember that 80 percent of individuals/candidates with disabilities are not connected to a disability serving organization so you will want to do three things:

  1. When you recruit on any college campuses explicitly tell the career placement coordinators at the schools you are already working with that you are EXPECTING them to work with the university staff that provide accommodations assistance to students with disabilities to make these students aware of in person and virtual career fairs and outreach opportunities your organization is planning.
  2. Make sure your careers webpage is fully accessible to people with disabilities, if you are not sure, have it evaluated by the Job Accommodation Network. There are also excellent disability owned and certified businesses that can assist with both assessment and addressing any gaps on your careers website such as: http://www.deque.com and http://www.ssbbartgroup.com .
  3. Enhance/customize your social media presence. Job seekers with disabilities are looking to see if you are truly committed to inclusion of our community. Here is an excellent example of what good looks like: https://www.facebook.com/StarbucksAccessAlliance.

Disability Etiquette

There is a GREAT free resource that has pretty much everything you need to know about the nuances and practical aspects of engaging with individuals who have a disability: http://www.unitedspinal.org/pdf/DisabilityEtiquette.pdf

Do Ask Do Tell: How to Get Candidates and Employees with Disabilities to Self Identify

There is a comprehensive, focused and easy to read research report that is free from The Conference Board that outlines the steps needed to effectively engage people with disabilities and get them to feel comfortable self identifying. If you create an account via this link at no charge you can download the full report.

Still have questions? There are additional free resources on my website.

I am confident that anyone reading this article considers themselves to be an ally for people with disabilities. Fully 50 percent of the U.S. population is touched directly or indirectly by disability. If you are wondering what you can do as an ally, or want to offer suggestions to others, here are a few steps to consider:

  • Ensuring that all of your organizations meeting invitations include an opportunity to request an accommodation if needed.  Offer examples such as wheelchair access, sign language interpreter, CART services, and dietary options.
  • When a microphone is available, encouraging usage to benefit people who are hearing impaired.
  • Including workplace accommodations program when providing information as to available employee resources at the end of all performance reviews (along with tuition reimbursement, Employee Assistance Program, and learning and development internal resources).
  • Providing closed captioning or CART services upon request for all large company meetings and having in place a standard mechanism for making these requests when meetings are announced.
  • Being aware of and able to readily direct people to reasonable accommodations process.
  • Being an empathetic listener when people with disabilities choose to confide in an you as an ally and maintaining any requested confidences.
  • Reminding co-workers that 75 percent of disabilities are non-apparent and therefore we should not assume that we do not have people with disabilities on our team.
  • Interrupting bias in the form of negative or prejudicial comments or jokes about people with disabilities (e.g. midget, retard, spaz, nut-job, etc.).
  • Offering assistance/support when observing a person with a disability is struggling to reach or carry something, open a door, find where they need to go, or otherwise fully participate safely and comfortably in the work environment. (Note, if offer of assistance declined, accept this as a positive exchange.)
  • Including a statement that indicates you are an ally for people with disabilities in your e-mail signature. This can be part of a favorite quote from a famous person you admire with a disability. Here is one of my favorites:

When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us. –Helen Keller

About The Winters Group, Inc.

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