With this past October being National Disability Employment Awareness Month and this 2015 marking the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, I started thinking about how rarely I hear disability come up in broader Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) discussions.
People with disabilities represent the single largest minority group seeking employment in today’s market.
Yet many of us are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with disability issues, and the unemployment rate for people living with disability is almost twice as high as it is for those without.
Despite tremendous progress and positive change in the last 25 years, it is widely acknowledged that we haven’t seen much progress in terms of increasing disability employment. In trying to wrap my head around why this might be the case, I’ve noticed a few unsettling trends:
First and foremost, the Diversity and Inclusion industry needs to do a better job at representing the disability dimension in our efforts. In many companies today, we are doing a great job of recognizing gender, age, race and sexual orientation, but people with disabilities are often left out of the conversation. I don’t think this is intentional, but rather a result of a tremendous lack of knowledge about disability workplace issues, even within the D&I community. As professionals in this space, we need to be the first line of offense for spurring change and helping every person feel included in the discussion.
Outside of my industry, employers often come to me and say that they have a desire to hire people with disabilities or aren’t purposely avoiding those candidates, they just “don’t know where to find them.” This intellectual support of people with disabilities is a step in the right direction, but the inaction that follows undermines this verbal support.
In reality, hiring more candidates with disabilities is no different than expanding your recruitment to any other population group.
When you want to increase your gender or racial diversity, or obtain different sexual orientations’ perspectives on an issue, you have to get involved in those communities. You have to show that you support those individuals and groups without judgment. For example, if you were looking for female applicants, you might attend a women’s leadership conference or co-sponsor an event with a local women’s advocacy group; when you’re looking to increase your visibility among applicants with disabilities, you need to get involved in their communities in similar ways.
By getting involved with the people you hope to work with, you position yourself as an ally, as someone whose actions speak for your beliefs.
The beliefs that we hold are shaped by our experiences and our current understanding of the people and situations that we encounter. Sometimes, this can help us, but, occasionally, our lack of understanding can betray our good intentions in a facial reaction or an offhanded remark. Often, our fear of the unknown is why we react based on what we think we know. This fear is often the source of our inaction as well. But small, practical steps can help get us moving in the right direction.
A basic level of awareness and some conscious etiquette can go a long way.
Here are my three tips for getting started:
Expose yourself to the topic
This is the 25th Anniversary of the ADA, events and programs are abundant. Do a search in your area and attend a couple of events, learn and listen! The USBLN and its affiliate chambers can be an incredible resource.
Type Disability Workforce Statistics or similar in your search engine and spend 30 minutes scanning a few of the findings.
Bring in an expert
There are many resources available who can address many FAQs on the topic and help you navigate through specifics.
Don’t overdo it.
You don’t have to go hire 100 people that all fit a certain demographic to prove that you support social justice. In fact, that can do more harm if you don’t prepare the culture to be inclusive to this new talent. Getting involved on a focused, personal level can make a more meaningful impression.