Employers can reach out to workers with disabilities

This week marks the anniversary of the passage of landmark legislation enlarging America’s ideal of equality — the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Disability is not a medical condition, disease or the terminology assigned to it. For instance, in my case, degenerative disk disorder isn’t a disability.

I can’t sit for long periods of time. This isn’t a big problem for me if I can work standing up, which I have done for 25 years. My employer at the onset of my disability was the New Mexico Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

My supervisor and the human resources manager approved the purchase of an adjustable desk and allowed me to stand and walk during long meetings and presentations.

Tatyana McFadden, an American woman who won the 2014 Boston Marathon women’s power rim race (1:35:06) on her 29th birthday, and also won marathons in London, Chicago and New York, was born with spinal bifida. She was sent to a St. Petersburg, Russia, orphanage, where she spent the first six years of her life using her arms as legs and walking on her hands without the use of a wheelchair.

In the United States, Tatyana and her adoptive mother had to win the right in court for her to race when other high school runners were racing.

Remarkably, people with disabilities will adapt, innovate, fight for their rights and work around most limits and will find success by doing something a different way — personal strength, endurance, technologies or even legal action.

Disability defined under the ADA is “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,” including “seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, speaking, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working.”

People with disabilities were less likely to be employed than those without disabilities, and those who were employed earned less than their colleagues with no disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Overall, there are 9.4 million people working with a disability, or 6 percent of the 155.9 million people in the U.S. workforce. Not surprisingly, a recent study found that employers are still reluctant to hire or retain employees with disabilities. Employers are not sure someone with a disability can do the work and are afraid of having to discipline or fire a worker. They are concerned with the extra time it will take, and they worry about health insurance costs. Employers report that they rarely see people with disabilities applying for jobs.

However, attitudes are changing, and almost three-quarters of employers in the study thought that increasing disability awareness and training for supervisors and managers would help.

Here are some tips for increasing the number of qualified applicants with a disability applying for job openings:

u Share your job postings and recruitment information with disability and veterans organizations.

u Offer open houses for representatives of community-based organizations to describe your hiring process, workplace culture and types of positions available and qualifications of candidates sought.

u Participate in career fairs with community colleges, vocational training schools and universities, where there has been a dramatic increase in both students and returning veterans with disabilities.

u Consider offering internship and mentorship programs for students and returning veterans with disabilities to build a talent pipeline of diverse candidates.

u Test websites and career pages for usability- and accessibility-increasing opportunities for candidates with disabilities applying for positions.

u Offer disability awareness days to increase understanding of the needs of returning veterans and others with disabilities.

Andy Winnegar lives in Santa Fe and provides consultation in New Mexico for the Southwest ADA Center, which promotes voluntary compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. He can be reached at andy@winnegar.com.

(1) comment

Joseph Hempfling

Thank you Andy for calling to our attention the fact that individuals with disability remain an untapped source of workers given half a chance and often, from my experience, appreciably out perform the so called able bodied. But being caught up in todays limited often over demanding labor market only serves to socially disable them further. Thank you for your thoughts on the subject.

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