Editors Note: This is a guest post on a topic that affects us all in one way or another. I received no compensation for posting this, but simply wanted to share it because I think it’s an important issue in our society.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), and this year’s theme is “A Strong Workforce Is an Inclusive Workforce: What Can YOU Do?” The topic couldn’t be more salient. A job is a precious commodity, but never more so in a slowly recovering economy; and it is up to each of us to insure that the economy we’re reviving is predicated on jobs that are open to all qualified applicants.
NDEAM is a national campaign sponsored by the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). It originates from a 1945 law declaring the first week of October “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week” and has undergone several permutations since then. The campaign’s current primary aim is to educate and empower the public, employers, and individuals with disabilities in order to celebrate diversity and safeguard equal opportunity to work.
The first step we can all take this month is to acknowledge that the biggest barrier to employment many individuals with disabilities face is not always, in fact, a disability: it’s a stereotype.
Human beings are quick to label, and when a job applicant discloses a disability, the disclosure can often overshadow the applicant. Even conscientious employers may unintentionally focus more on the disclosure—or some of the most pervasive myths about hiring individuals with disabilities—than on the unique skills, knowledge, and other qualifications the applicant may possess.
Individuals with disabilities also face practical obstacles, such as transportation or scheduling issues. They may have had fewer opportunities to cultivate and refine skills essential to their fields, and their resumes may not reflect continuous employment (or the entirety of their professional worth). It is therefore the responsibility of employers and human resource administrators not only to fully adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but also to foster an inclusive professional culture.
This means more than disregarding pervasive myths, such as the idea that people with disabilities have a higher absentee rate than employees without disabilities or the fear that employing people with disabilities will be more expensive than not. In fact, according to a 2008 Rutgers University study, employees with disabilities have a lower absenteeism rate than other employees, and ODEP reported the same year that most large and mid-sized companies report no significant increase in cost with the addition of employees with disabilities.
A truly inclusive professional culture can only be attained when human resources administrators undergo appropriate training and education. Some of the requisite subjects in which human resources administration should be fluent include disability etiquette and “person-first” perspectives; ADA and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance; tax incentives that support the employment of individuals with disabilities; and all relevant ethical and legal perspectives on wages, benefits, and job-evaluation equity.
Human resources administrators can further enrich the workplaces they oversee by exploring the ways in which diversity and accessibility build business. For instance, an inclusive and vibrant workplace leads to greater employee engagement—which leads to greater productivity and fewer turn-overs. That’s because all people, with and without disabilities, flourish in communities that honor diversity, inclusion, and individual recognition. In other words, we all stand to benefit by adopting NDEAM’s mission not just in October, but every day of the year.