This time of year always gives me an opportunity to reflect on my life’s work. My career and mission have focused on increasing the employment of people with disabilities. As the sands of time have shifted, regulation and economic conditions swing, and new information is discovered, my focus has drifted to take advantage of opportunities to improve employment for people with disabilities. In the past 5 years, I have realized that business is where we can make the most progress.
We don’t need regulation or legislation to change the situation of people with disabilities, we simply need to leverage and develop their talents to provide value to a business. Matching employer skills to business needs creates a win-win situation.
The primary barrier I see today (that the ADA has not been able to impact) is that society in America still deems the concept “employing a person with a disability” as a charitable act. As I have hired sales and marketing consultants to help develop my business, I dread the learning curve they have to go through when they propose, “let’s talk about your sales pitch, let’s make sure we talk about tax credits as an offset for lesser productivity of the employee with disability.” I stop them at that point and ask the uncomfortable question, “why do you assume that an employee with a disability is less productive?”
They stammer and at times, some give me examples of when they have experienced a person with a disability providing less value than other co-workers, but usually they have no idea where they got that notion. Yes, there are unfortunate examples when a business has allowed/encouraged a person with a disability to be held to a lesser standard than the remining co-workers. I hope we eliminate those soon, but I stand fast to the belief that most of that misperception comes from the high unemployment rate of people with disabilities which makes everyone else ASSUME that it means they are unemployed becausethey cannot add value. Despite all of the evidence otherwise: case studies, statistics and testimonials; Americans do not see enough examples of people with disabilities adding value…so they assume it is less.
I see three activities that can help prevent the past from continuing to be the present:
1. If you are employing a person with a disability, hold them to the same standards as others. This does not mean ignore accommodations or that they aren’t allowed to do the work differently, but it doesmean that you expect at the end of the day/week/month, they have provided value to the business that meets or exceeds the cost of their paycheck and benefits.
2. Understand the facts of employment of people with disabilities – they are equal or better than non-disabled co-workers when held to the same standards.
3. Hire a person with a disability, hold them to the same standards as others and when they attain those standards, help change the conversation from charity to competitive advantage.