It’s No Longer “Them”...it’s “Us”...
I just returned from Disability Matters 2011 (DM), one of the most important Corporate Awards Conferences in the U.S. I met so many corporate representatives for whom Disability Really Matters. Just about every attendee I talked with had a personal connection to disability. Some were parents of children with disabilities or primary caregivers for a family member. Others were people with disabilities themselves.
What struck me is the passion & commitment each person exuded in leading the way to increase participation from people with disabilities in the workforce, workplace and marketplace. These leaders champion an array of internal and external programs and support services that embrace true inclusion as a business imperative, such as Employment Resource Groups & ongoing corporate-wide disability awareness programs. These leaders go beyond the letter of the law and embrace a corporate culture that invites dialogue, problem-solving & innovation among ALL its employees. This type of welcoming atmosphere makes it easier for all employees, especially those with disabilities, to request workplace supports / accommodations rather than fear exposure & stigma. The advantage of talking about the needs of ALL employees makes the needs of those with disabilities stand out less. When corporations create a culture in which all employees are comfortable, it helps employees ask for what they need...it’s not uncomfortable to make a request, such as a quieter workspace due to distractibility from a head injury; more frequent breaks due to a need to check insulin levels due to diabetes; requesting a sign language interpreter for a corporate training program; or asking for flexible work schedule due to an unexpected doctor’s appointment.
The number of people with disabilities has steadily increased during the past 21 years--from 43 million to over 52 million Americans. You know why people without disabilities are called “TABs?” (Temporarily Abled Bodied). Because disability is the fastest growing minority in America today...and it’s an equal opportunity club. Anyone can become a member at any time--when they least expect it. 20 million families have a family member with a disability; 6.6 million children and youth receive special education services and will hopefully comprise part of our future workforce. More than 500,000 troops have been wounded in recent conflicts & seeking re-entry into the workforce. Our aging workforce is acquiring disabilities and staying longer in our companies. Even thought we talk about the high percentage of people with disabilities who are unemployed, the reality is that there are lots of employees with chronic health conditions who are already in our workforce! For all of us, disability is, or soon will become, a personal issue. People with disabilities are all around us. As we age, more TABs are acquiring chronic health conditions and physical/mental impairments. Disability Matters to ALL of us. Those people are now us.
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