Advocacy education and disability awareness have become major drivers towards the creation of inclusive workplaces for individuals with richly varied mental and physical abilities. Both the political and social landscapes in America have progressed towards providing equal employment opportunities for persons with disabilities since the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Still, however, obstacles prevent a fully equitable environment for employment; nearly 45 percent of Americans with disabilities were unemployed as of 2000, according to the United States Department of Labor.[i] Studies conducted in late 2004 showed an alarming rise in unemployment among those with disabilities, projecting a rate of 65 to 70 percent.
At first blush the blame is easily placed on management. Studies seem to imply managers, Human Resources Departments, or other administrative bodies charged with hiring personnel for organizations are not welcoming persons with mental or physical impairments. However, a closer look reveals a more startling truth.
The Federal Managers Association in conjunction with Telework Exchange, an organization committed to demonstrating the emerging value of remote telecommunication operations, surveyed over five hundred Federal employees in January and February of 2010 to gauge institutional advocacy and awareness for hiring, developing, and promoting workers with disabilities. The resulting study, titled Unnecessary Barriers, provides insight as to why unemployment for persons with disabilities has risen so dramatically.
Contrary to intuition, it is not managerial gatekeepers thwarting the assimilation of those with disabilities into the workforce. Of the employees surveyed, an overwhelming 71 percent said their institutions had made a full and steadfast commitment to hiring employees with disabilities.[ii] However, only a mere half of respondents felt that officials had the tools and knowledge to retain and ultimately promote these employees.[iii] With the remaining half of managers and decision makers ill-equipped to provide the supports necessary to advance a worker with a disability, retention and advancement become impractical if not altogether impossible.
In the wake of the Unnecessary Boundaries study, it is clear to see the rising unemployment level among those with disabilities is not linked with an unwillingness to hire. Rather, it is a lack of tools, knowledge, and interoffice environmental supports that makes difficult the retention and advancement of workers with disabilities. Specifically, it may be a general lack of advocacy education that contributes most to persons with disabilities attaining short-lived employment.
Legislation like the A.D.A. is not enough. Industry professionals from Capitol Hill to Middle America must support disability education and awareness in the office. The lofty ideals that have been penned on paper must now manifest themselves as committed actions. Proactive interoffice advocacy education programs are the foundation for promoting knowledge and empathy among employees, two qualities necessary to unite coworkers in an inclusive work environment. In a unified company culture with ongoing disability training, each employee receives the support they need to develop as a professional, enhance their skill sets, and maximize value for both themselves and their company.
[iii] please see [ii]