By Greg Fehribach
Earlier this month, the National Organization on Disability recognized nine U.S. companies for their work in hiring and engaging people with disabilities. You can read more about why the NOD selected these companies as the “Fine Nine” at www.nod.org/news.
Two things really stood out about the NOD’s announcement of the Fine Nine, which was wisely timed to coincide with Labor Day, a holiday dedicated to the American worker. First, the NOD cited some alarming statistics from a 2010 Harris survey that they sponsored with the Kessler Foundation. The survey found that employment remains the biggest gap between people with and without disabilities. Among working-age people with disabilities, only 21 percent reported that they are employed full or part time, compared to 59 percent of people without disabilities. That’s a gap of 38 points.
The second was the headline in the article the United Press International published about the study. “Disabled workers always in recession,” accurately sums up the situation that people with disabilities – many of whom are educated and eager to work – face throughout their lives. Unfortunately, when people with disabilities are denied access to employment opportunities, they are forced to rely on government assistance. In today’s economic climate of austerity and frugality, particularly on the state and local levels, people with disabilities may lose these critical safety nets they have come to rely on.
So, where do we go from here? We must continue to encourage people with disabilities to get an education, and challenge them to use that education in non-traditional ways. We must continue to educate businesses about the potential for people with disabilities to help boost their bottom line. We must continue an open and candid dialogue, especially as baby boomers reach retirement age – every day.•
An attorney with a disability who uses an electric wheelchair as a mobility aid device, Gregory S. Fehribach is a leading consultant on accessible design. This column was originally published on Fehribach’s blog, which can be found at www.thefehribachgroup.com. Opinions expressed in this column are the author’s.