Monday, February 21, 2011

Change—and What Is Possible for People With Disabilities? [Part 2]

This article was first published by DiversityInc on their website in October 2010 as well as in their magazine in November 2010.

Part 2 of 2 posts:


Global Challenges
The global environment argues against the exclusion of talent of any kind. Globalization, in my view, actually favors people with disabilities in the workforce, more than at any other time in history.

This is the new world of work, a world I believe is extending a hand to people with disabilities to not only participate but to lead. This is a time of great opportunity for people with disabilities to be a leader in business, government or other areas of employment. But more must be done to close critical gaps that will allow people with disabilities to become more fully integrated in society and the workplace. 

To achieve this, we must strengthen partnerships with government and non-governmental organizations to help people with disabilities get to work as well as earn enough to wean themselves off our well-intentioned social programs. To accomplish this, three areas require attention: transportation, technology and inclusion.

First, transportation: According to a National Organization on Disabilityy/Harris survey, people with disabilities are twice as likely to have inadequate transportation when compared with the mainstream population (31 percent versus 13 percent).

Lack of mobility is a major inhibitor if one aspires to a leadership role. The inability to travel, or the perception that one cannot travel easily, may even remove people with disabilities from consideration for a variety of jobs, making career advancement more difficult. Is this perception right? The answer is no. Does it exist? The answer is yes.

Government and business must continue to partner and look at transportation from the perspective of people with disabilities. A holistic approach must be taken, beginning with a person with a disability at home and mapping a route from home to work and back. The basic elements include: education and training, health care needs to get up and leave the house, appropriate transportation (public or private), and a workplace that is accessible, flexible and inclusive.

Second, technology: The Harris survey also reported that Americans with disabilities not only rely on assistive technology but a third reported they would lose their independence without technology.

Many assistive-technology accommodations cost as little as $500.00. The investment in technology to employ a professional with a disability may be less than the price a business pays for repeated costs of attrition, recruiting and hiring. Investments in technology can help make all employees more productive.

Finally, we can all do more when it comes to inclusion—that is, being comfortable with people who are different than we are.

Integrated, Not Isolated
For some employers today, the inclination is to think that if an employee has a disability, the employment issue can be handled by just providing technology that enables an employee to work from home. In some cases that may be true or even necessary. But I think it’s critical for people with disabilities to be visible and in the workplace. To overcome basic misconceptions, a professional with a disability must be fully integrated into the workplace, not isolated.

I’m sure there are many organizations that will hire a person with a disability with the right skills for a job, but how many have the vision to consider that same person to run their company or organization? Take a look at people with disabilities who are professionals in your own organizations; they may just be the leaders you are looking for—right under your nose and ready to lead. I ask that you employ people with disabilities not just for a job but for a leadership career in your organization.

Although we have seen significant changes in the world, we still have a long way to go. As you reflect on this topic, consider these questions: What do you see when you look at a person with a disability? Do you see just a blind person, a person who is deaf, or a person who uses a wheelchair?

The next time you meet a person with a disability, I would like you to see a business colleague ... possibly a person who could be your next manager or even the next CEO of your organization.

Until we change our perceptions and paradigms, we will never see what is possible. Until we see and act upon what is possible, we will never change the present.

JS








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