People with disabilities represent a large source of qualified workers. According to the Census 2000 Brief, 49.7 million people (19.3% of the population) have some level of disability. As the population ages, approximately 40% of those over 65 will likely acquire a disability. In fact, one in five Americans will likely be affected by a disability during his or her lifetime. High unemployment continues to be a serious problem for the disability community. Only 32% of Americans with disabilities aged 18 to 64 are working, but two-thirds of the 68% who are unemployed would rather be working.
In the past decade, there has been an acutely heightened focus on diversity and inclusion through diversity organizations and think tanks, boutique consultancies, magazines, and books. In addition, through ongoing information-packed conferences, diversity's best and brightest have shared with each other the work that has generated the greatest impact on promoting the diversity agenda. Yet despite the many advances and continued momentum, most of corporate America remains stuck in terms of seeing diverse representation at the most senior levels.
A high-performance organization relies on a dynamic workforce with the requisite talents, multidisciplinary knowledge, and up-to-date skills to ensure that it is equipped to accomplish its mission and achieve its goals. Such organizations typically foster a work environment in which people are enabled and motivated to contribute to mission accomplishment and provide both accountability and fairness for all employees. To accomplish these objectives, high-performance organizations are inclusive, drawing on the strengths of employees at all levels and of all backgrounds - an approach consistent with diversity management.
Experts predict that by 2010 the American economy will support 168 million new jobs, yet there will only be 158 million workers to fill them. Add to this shortfall the increasing need for technology skills and the millions of seasoned workers, baby boomers, who are reaching retirement age. "Companies in many industries report having trouble finding enough skilled workers to fill available jobs. It's not just big business: A recent National Federation of Independent Business survey of small businesses found that 27% of employers reported difficulty in filling open positions." In 2003, a CWP survey of more than 3,700 businesses found that half of the employers responding reported having a hard or very hard time finding qualified job applicants. To compound this shortfall, in the near future, 60% of new jobs in the United States will require skills held by only 20% of the current workforce. From where, then, will these skilled workers come
The major barriers to achievement by people with disabilities in our society continue to be attitudinal barriers, stereotypical thinking, and assumptions about what people can and can't do. The truth is that the range of ability of persons within any disability group is enormous. We need to get rid of our stereotypical images and view each individual as just that: "an individual."
Assumptions that can be barriers to employment for persons with disabilities:
Assumption: A person with a developmental disability and difficulty with fine motor control is unlikely to be able to handle complex operations on the production line of a manufacturing plant.
Fact: A person with this combination of functional limitations was hired for a production line job. The job involved labeling, filling, capping, and packing a liquid product. The only accommodation supplied for the worker was the creation of a plywood jig. The jig enabled the worker to hold the bottle steady for correct labeling.
Assumption: A person with mental retardation cannot be trained to perform a job as well as an employee without a disability.
Fact: Over two-thirds of the 4,000 participants in Pizza Hut, Inc.'s "Jobs Plus Program" are persons with mental retardation. The current turnover rate among these employees with disabilities is a modest 20% compared to the 150% turnover rate of employees without disabilities. This means a drop in recruitment and training costs.
Assumption: Downhill skiers with one leg cannot really compete against racers with two legs.
Fact: Top racers without disabilities have been clocked at 80-85 miles per hour; downhill skiers with one leg have been clocked at over 74 miles per hour.
Assumption: It is unlikely that a man whose right leg is amputated six inches above the knee can perform the duties of a warehouseman that require loading and unloading trucks, standing, lifting, bending, and delivering supplies to various sections as needed.
Fact: A person with this type of amputation was hired to work in a paper warehouse. He performed the job without any modification. He worked out so well that the company moved him to operating heavy equipment, a log stacker. The company did not have to make any accommodations . He was able to climb ladders and the heavy equipment without any problems.
Assumption: An individual with a psychiatric disability cannot work in a stressful environment where tight timelines have to be met.
Fact: All individuals perceive stress differently and their responses vary. Some individuals with psychiatric disabilities perform effectively in jobs that require specific timelines and structure.
Assumption: There is no way that a wheelchair racer can compete with the world's best marathon runners.
Fact: It takes a good runner over two hours to run a marathon. A competitive wheelchair racer can complete a marathon in less than one and a half hours.
Assumption: It is unbelievable that a person with a double amputation can compete with the world's fastest 100-meter dash runners.
Fact: The world record is 9.9 seconds. A runner who is a double amputee ran the dash in 11.76 seconds, just 1.8 seconds off the world mark.
Assumption: People with severe disabilities can't compete in heavy duty weight lifting activities.
Fact: A person with cerebral palsy has bench pressed weights in excess of 500 pounds.
Assumption: A person who is blind and has a missing right hand cannot perform a job as a machinist.
Fact: The applicant lost his vision and right hand in Vietnam. He persuaded a community college to train him as a machinist and was finally given a job on a trial basis. From the very first day, he broke production records and caused others to do the same. His only modification was to move a lever from the right side of the machine to the left.
Many employers believe that they will have to change their physical structures, every desk, every doorway... but statistics show that 15% of accommodations cost nothing and 50% of accommodations cost less than $500. The majority (73%) of employers reported that their workers with disabilities did not require accommodations and the most requested accommodation is a flexible work schedule, which costs nothing.
People with disabilities develop important critical thinking skills. "People who have disabilities, either through birth or because they have acquired one, must develop other strengths, traits, and qualities, perseverance, problem solving, goal setting, determination, that make them valuable and marketable in the workplace." - Jennifer Sheehy, U.S. Department of Education
One must learn where to find and recruit people with disabilities, learn how to communicate with people who have disabilities, ensure that applications and other company forms do not ask disability-related questions and that they are in formats that are accessible to all persons with disabilities, consider having written job descriptions that identify the essential functions of the job.
Employers need only remember to put the person first and the disability second. This means referring to workers as "people with disabilities" not "the disabled" and describing an individual as a "person who uses a wheelchair," not one who is "wheelchair bound." Don't be afraid to ask questions when you are unsure of what to do.
The Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a service of the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy, provides information about job accommodations,ADA, and the employability of people with disabilities. JAN's mission is to facilitate the employment and retention of workers with disabilities by providing information to employers, employment providers, people with disabilities, their family members, and others on job accommodations, self-employment, small business opportunities, and related subjects.
Employers looking for information, training, and technical assistance can find it at the 10 regional DBTACs around the country that are sponsored by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). DBTACs provide technical assistance on accessing information technology, complying with ADA, employing people with disabilities, and dispelling myths. DBTACs also provide information on low-cost or free training, local resources, and tax credits and deductions to supplement the cost of making accommodations for both employees and customers. For more information, call 800-949-4232 (V/TTY) or go to www.adata.org/dbtac.html.