Endings And New Beginnings In The Workforce For People With Disabilities 

Headshot of Carol GlazerSept. 4, 2020 | By NOD President Carol Glazer. 

As cooler days prevail, I can’t help but think about endings and beginnings.

Of course, there is the end of summer fast approaching, which means the beginning of fall. But in this, the strangest, in many cases direst of years, I am struck by how beginnings and endings are taking on new meaning.

Take the upcoming Labor Day holiday for example. At its essence it represents a tribute to the end of unfair labor practices and beginning of the social and economic achievements of American workers. But, as never before, we see that prosperity is not universal, especially for people with disabilities.

The hovering dark clouds of our economy during the pandemic have meant more and more people with disabilities are out of work and struggling to find employment.

To put it in perspective, in early May, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Jobs Report showed that nearly 1 million working-age people with disabilities lost their jobs – a 20 percent reduction – in March and April alone. By comparison, 14 percent of working-age people without disabilities lost their jobs in that timeframe. What is worse is that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was already extremely high.

Before the current economic slowdown, the employment-to-population ratio for working-age people with disabilities was historically high, yet it was only at 31 percent, against 75 percent for working-age people without disabilities. The gap will continue to get worse in the coming months if the economy does not turn around because people with disabilities are traditionally the last hired and the first fired. And we are not necessarily among the workers who are rehired.

These are harsh numbers and cause for concern. But I believe there is a good chance COVID-19 may just be the beginning of a way to level the playing field for people with disabilities. Telework is an idea people with disabilities have promoted for decades with limited success, saying we could be successful if we just had the right accommodations. We were met with denials like “our company needs someone in the office fulltime for the best staff collaboration.” That response is out the window in 2020.

Now that businesses have no reason not to hire someone who works from home, they should consider all the positives of bringing on board people with disabilities. When companies hire people with disabilities, they raise their performance bar. People with disabilities are incredible problem solvers, as they spend much of each day navigating daily challenges. We constantly show persistence, tenacity and adaptability.

At the National Organization on Disability we know that to be true and we help companies understand where they stand with their disability inclusion through our Disability Employment Tracker, a free and confidential assessment and scorecard benchmarking a company’s performance.

On staff, employees with disabilities make a difference. As many as 75 percent of us (compared with 61 percent of employees without disabilities) have ideas that would drive value for our companies. Nearly half of these ideas would serve the disability market, according to the Harvard Business Review.

Our ideas can help create a can’t-be-ignored customer base. The consumer spending of people with disabilities is nearly a trillion dollars annually, and provides an opportunity for companies to capitalize on an additional 20 percent of the market share.

These are important issues to consider. And on Labor Days to come, I hope we can look back and see that during this unprecedented time, there was both an end to the unfair exclusion of people with disabilities who want to work and the beginning of universal accommodations and accessibility that allows everyone to be a successful part of the workforce.

NPR Planet Money Podast Interviews NOD President Carol Glazer: “The Old Rules Were Dumb Anyway”

August 28, 2020 – When the pandemic hit, the old rules went out the window. What rules will stay broken when things go back to normal? NPR’s Planet Money asked NOD President Carol Glazer to weigh in.

In this podcast, Glazer shares how employees with disabilities were among the first to get laid off when the pandemic hit the U.S. – in fact, more than one million lost their jobs. But, Glazer shares how the wave of companies implementing remote work is dispelling many of the myths that kept those with disabilities out of the workplace.


Jump to 17:30 to hear Carol Glazer’s interview

This podcast was originally posted on NPR.org.

Has the Great WFH Experiment Delivered for Workers with Disabilities?

Coworkers discussing project in architects office
Coworkers discussing project in architects office | Getty Images

August 27, 2020 · Alex Hickey

For many workers with mental or physical disabilities, being “last hired, first fired” is an all-too-familiar story—and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in the worst unemployment crisis in decades.

But the pandemic also presented a unique opportunity: a tectonic shift to remote work. Have those opportunities been realized for people with disabilities or chronic illnesses?

A rough few months

In 2019, even with record-low unemployment (3.5%!) that had companies scrambling for talent, disabled workers weren’t making meaningful gains. The employment rate for disabled workers with a college degree was less than half that of adults without a disability who held a high school diploma or less.

And then COVID-19 happened. In the last few months, tens of millions of Americans have been put out of a job, and people with disabilities continue to face higher levels of joblessness.

  • The unemployment rate for workers with a disability peaked in April at 18.9%. It was 14.3% for workers without a disability.
  • By July, unemployment for workers with a disability had fallen to 14.3%, while it hit 10.3% for workers with no disability.

Now, competing for limited open positions, disabled workers have to combat misperceptions that they are higher risk and more expensive.

Can remote work close the gap?

“There’s no question that more people with disabilities will be able to work when telework becomes more routine,” Carol Glazer, president of the National Organization on Disability, told the Brew.

Eighty-three percent of workers with a disability or a chronic illness surveyed by GitLab said remote work allowed them to participate in the workforce. And over half said it gives them an opportunity to contribute to company direction, values, and processes.

Remote reduces or eliminates time spent on commuting, which can take longer and be more logistically challenging for some people with disabilities. In New York City, only 25% of subway stations are accessible for travelers who require mobility devices or service animals. Remote work also gives employees more discretion to set up physical workspaces that suit their needs, avoid workplace stressors or sensory overload, and have extra flexibility to schedule appointments and care as needed with less disruption to their work.

When COVID-19 forced offices to close, many employers extended WFH arrangements, equipment, technology, and other resources to employees. But the nearly overnight spin up of telework exposed a painful double standard for some workers with disabilities.

  • “Many of us have long asked, fought for, and have been denied these reasonable accommodations, and have even lost their job as a result,” journalist Danielle Campoamor writes for Teen Vogue.
  • “It can feel painful to watch policies we’ve been told were impossibilities, unfair work arrangements, or somehow detrimental to the energy of the workplace, be so widely and effortlessly implemented.”

Even in the best of times, remote work is not accessible to all. It’s often extended to workers with more education and in higher-earning roles, Brookings analyst Nicole Bateman told the Brew. BLS data shows workers with disabilities are more likely to be employed in roles like production, transportation, and non-professional services, which typically provide less opportunity for remote work.

Plus, many leading platforms for workplace communication and collaboration aren’t fully equipped with features for visually or hearing-impaired workers.

Employers can also be slow to implement accessibility initiatives. It was an uphill battle getting employers to invest in accessibility programs before the pandemic. During hard economic times, new initiatives for accessibility, training, and recruitment are often not prioritized, Glazer and Bateman said.

  • State and local governments, which often create incentives for firms to make accessibility investments, have seen the pandemic decimate their budgets even as they’re being asked to do more than ever, according to Bateman.

What’s next?

The current national conversation about barriers facing marginalized communities has brought more attention to issues of workplace discrimination, but people with disabilities still face a tougher road to economic recovery even with increased flexible working arrangements.

  • During and after the Great Recession, employment levels for people with a disability recovered more slowly than for workers without a disability, according to Bateman.

What can companies do? The National Organization on Disability created a scorecard to help companies benchmark their inclusion policies. Employers who successfully hire and retain workers with disabilities frequently have policies such as mentorship programs, employee resource groups, clear explanations of accommodations, and training for staff about disability to demystify it, according to Glazer.

Workers with disabilities can help companies rebound. As businesses undergo a period of unprecedented economic and social change, hiring managers would be wise to team up with “people who are much better at dealing with fear and uncertainty. People who are great problem solvers, who are undaunted by challenges,” Glazer said.

This article was originally published on Morning Brew

This Year’s ADA Anniversary Marks A Time to Make Certain We Are Not Losing Ground | Blog by Merrill Friedman, Sr. Director, Disability Policy Engagement, Anthem

Governor Tom Ridge, Merrill Friedman of Anthem, and Carol Glazer of NOD smiling and holding an award
Merrill Friedman receives NOD’s Leading Disability Employer award on behalf of Anthem, with NOD Chairman Governor Tom Ridge and President Carol Glazer

By Merrill Friedman, Sr. Director, Disability Policy Engagement from Anthem, Inc.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

I had planned to pause in 2020 to honor the ADA, thinking about what it has meant for people with disabilities and, of course, what work needs to be done to continue moving forward. I looked forward to the flurry of events, seeing people from across the country, and setting some expectations for the next 30 years. Then, we saw the onset of a pandemic, COVID-19. While I, and others here at Anthem, will absolutely include activities to mark this milestone, I find myself thinking that instead of so much focus on gaining ground, we need to worry we don’t lose any.

Exposure to COVID-19 for people with disabilities has several implications, including the threat of health care rationing, restrictions on loved ones having advocates to support them in the hospital, their DSPs and PCAs not being considered “essential workers,” or not having equitable access to PPE. This, along with the staggering unemployment rate, means we need to make sure people with disabilities do not lose the progress hard-won since the ADA was passed 30 years ago.

People with disabilities are more than twice as likely as those without disabilities to experience unemployment. And they are often among the first to lose their jobs when the economy sours; as the economy turns around, it is not necessarily those same workers who get hired back.

There are 60 million people with disabilities in the United States, and those numbers will only grow because of COVID-19. Many survivors will have lasting physical and mental health conditions, which means the unemployment figures could rise even further.

What is frustrating is that high joblessness does not have to be part of the story for people with disabilities. Given their life experiences, they can lead the way for all of us on working effectively from home. They have advocated long before the pandemic that given support, flexibility, and access to equipment and broadband, they can thrive like other employees. This has been our experience at Anthem.

We started preparing for COVID-19 early and with great thoughtfulness. By the time the pandemic was overwhelming the public and shelter-in-place orders were rolling out, 99 percent of our employees were in the process of being supported to work remotely with the tools they needed.

We made sure everyone had the resources necessary to be successful. I am very proud of what the company has done and continues to do. If an employee with a disability requires an accommodation while working from home, we provide it as we would if they were in the office. We have also ensured focus and precision in supporting people with disabilities who access their health care through Anthem plans so they can maintain access to critical supports like their providers, food, and other services.

Mental health support during the pandemic is also critical for all of our associates, who in addition to coping with stress and uncertainty in their own lives, internalize the stress and anxiety that our members share when we speak with them. We recognized that our health care services needed to be easily accessible to both associates and members and expanded telehealth and increased the options for physical, mental health, substance use, and social supports through this platform.

During Mental Health Awareness Month in May, we created #MeMinutes, a reminder for employees to think about their own self-care and to take time for themselves for the purpose of individual health and wellbeing and to better support other people. We know that we only move through this challenging time if we work together.

What has been so interesting is that many of the practices we have adopted recently have been recommended by our colleagues with disabilities for years, showing how important it is to listen to the experiences of people with disabilities.

My hope is that we continue to build on the knowledge and practice gained during this time of crisis and consider when recruiting people with disabilities that they know how to adapt to different work environments effectively with the right supports. Let’s not lose what we have learned as we have navigated the pandemic so we can continue to level the playing field toward true inclusive employment, realizing the promise of the ADA. If that happens, we will all have reason to pause and celebrate this year.

Anthem is a longtime member of the NOD Corporate Leadership Council and a sponsor of NOD’s Look Closer awareness campaign. For its exemplary disability employment practices, NOD has recognized Anthem as a Leading Disability Employer Seal every year since the award’s inception in 2016.  





Why a separate Paralympics should end and a unified Olympic Games should begin

By Charles Catherine, Opinion contributor

In a pre-pandemic world we all would be talking about the joy and heartache that go with watching the world’s best athletes compete.

Many people are crushed that the Olympic Games are postponed for a year. For me, it is the Paralympic Games, originally scheduled to begin Aug. 24, that filled me with anticipation and now leaves me deflated.

I am blind and a Paralympic hopeful, training for years to qualify for the Tokyo games. I won’t know for some time if I make the team because the qualifying races were canceled because of COVID-19.

As I have time to reflect on the games, I can’t help but wonder if we really need this event. In some ways this separate competition feels like a sideshow, a reflection of a painful reality: we still think of disability as something other.

I have Paralympian friends who are world record holders and gold medalists, but they are not household names, and they often struggle even to find jobs.

The question I ask myself is whether it is time to merge the Paralympic and Olympic Games? Leading Paralympians, including six-time gold medalist David Weir, support the idea. In a time of so much discussion about equality, is it time to end the segregation of disabled athletes from their Olympic peers?

Logistics are an obstacle

There is a logistical argument against it. If we combine the two events, we would have 15,000 athletes and need a much larger Olympic village. Plus, the event would take longer to complete. Paradoxically, there would need to be a plan so that the Paralympics would not lose exposure. Otherwise, It is likely few if any disability events would enjoy prime time programming.

This would need to be a serious consideration. It makes me think of what André Malraux, activist and writer from my home country of France, said: “Without an audience, there are no heroes.”

Sponsors of the Olympics might say there is not the same interest in watching the games of  athletes with disabilities from around the world. I say they are wrong.

There is great interest in the games. The London 2012 Paralympics were a financial success. Organizers sold 2.72 million tickets, and 11.2 million people watched Channel 4 (the official broadcaster of the event in the UK) during its broadcast of the Paralympic opening ceremony. It was the channel’s biggest audience in a decade.

The Rio 2016 Paralympics numbers were not as great, but still sold 1.8 million tickets, which was slightly better than in Beijing in 2008 (1.7 million). These ticket sales show there is a market for this event, and potential sponsors know that with an estimated population of 1.3 billion worldwide, people with disabilities constitute an emerging market the size of China.

The International Olympic Committee, which represents able-bodied athletes, and the International Paralympic Committee have signed a memorandum of understanding that extends their cooperation to 2032, which could be altered if both organizations had the temerity to do so.

Let’s continue to champion inclusion

If we could find ways to overcome these obstacles, and organize an inclusive Olympic Games, it would send a powerful message.

Let’s not forget that when women joined the Olympics there needed to be changes, additional accommodations and more time allotted to the games. At the 1948 London Olympics for instance, there were only 4,104 athletes. Holding games with 11,238 athletes (as in Rio in 2016) would have seemed impossible.

When I compete in World Cup races, our event is usually right before the able-body athletes race. I get to socialize with my idols, experience them racing. In those precious moments, I feel like I am truly part of the national team, an elite athlete despite my disability. I believe that what is possible at the World Cup is also possible at the Olympics.

When we look back, we can see long historical forces leading us toward more inclusive societies; the Olympic Games are a window into this world. The inclusion of women, ethnic minorities and LGBTQ athletes teaches us something we can learn about athletes with disabilities.

Gertrude Ederle, Jesse Owens and Matthew Mitcham were all trailblazers in their own way. Tomorrow the likes of Paralympic athletes Melissa Stockwell, David Brown and Moran Samuel might have a chance to be part of this history. All they need is an opportunity.

Charles Catherine is special assistant to the president of the National Organization on Disability.

This article was originally published in USA Today.

VIDEO: Charter Communications’ Chairman and CEO Tom Rutledge Celebrates the ADA at 30

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, members of the NOD Corporate Leadership Council and sponsors of our Look Closer awareness campaign are sharing messages from their chief executive officers discussing why disability inclusion matters to their organizations.

To mark this historic milestone, hear from Charter Communications’ Chairman and CEO Tom Rutledge about how the ADA has helped our nation break down barriers.

Tom Rutledge, Charter Communications’ Chairman and CEO shares how disability inclusion can change lives. That’s why Charter is committed to fostering a welcoming workplace where employees with disabilities can succeed and grow, and providing accessible products and services that exceed customer expectations.

Charter Communications is a valued member of the NOD Corporate Leadership Council and a sponsor of our Look Closer awareness campaign. In April 2020, NOD welcomed Rhonda Crichlow, Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Charter Communications, as the newest member of our board of directors.

Penn Live | How the ADA Helped Make the Hershey Company Stronger

Gov. Tom Ridge, NOD's Chairman, awarding AJ Petross the 2017 NOD Leading Disability Employer Seal
Gov. Tom Ridge, NOD’s Chairman, awarding Hershey’s Leading Disability Employer Seal to Alicia Petross.

Thirty years ago, this month, the Americans with Disabilities Act became law across the United States, laying a much-needed foundation for people with disabilities to receive the accessibility and accommodations they need to successfully live and work.

While there is always room to improve the ADA as we look toward the next 30 years, one of the real achievements of it – signed into law by President George HW Bush on July 26, 1990 – has been to open doors in corporate America.

I say this from experience. At The Hershey Company, we have seen time and time again that people with disabilities have unique experiences when working through challenges and adversity and have supersized adaptability skills.

That is why when our company needed to address the needs of our employees as COVID-19 began to spread across our nation and the world, we quickly sought input from our Abilities First group.

Abilities First focuses on people with disabilities within our company. This group provided valuable advice as we put together an all-employee guide to help our 16,000 teammates find resources and support information during the pandemic.

We consider everyone and their perspectives and experiences when we make decisions. It is the culture of Hershey; inclusion is part of our DNA. And we know from experience, programs that support people with disabilities add value for everyone at the company.

Providing accommodations is critical. During the pandemic we have made sure that some of the masks we distribute are clear in front so that people who read lips can continue to do so. During regular communications from The Hershey Company CEO, Michele Buck, and our leadership team, we include closed captioning of their remarks.

The Hershey Company is proud to be a member of the Look Closer campaign, in partnership with the National Organization on Disability. The campaign urges hiring managers to “look closer” at the talents of people with disabilities, who add so much to workplaces like ours.

Given all of this, we spend a great deal of time responding to the personal needs of our employees to make sure they have what they need to support their physical, emotional, and economic wellbeing during this time of pandemic.

We provided our employees personal protective equipment and made certain we did not lose sight of our culture of “employees first.” Within two weeks of employees starting to work from home and in our factories wearing protective gear and social distancing, we delivered the employees’ guide and set up ways that we could check in with all of our workers at least two times a week.

We understand people have a lot going on in their lives beyond work. And the COVID-19 pandemic has made many aspects of life and work more complex. Needing flexibility is something we hear, including from our employees with disabilities. Flexibility and the ability to work remotely can be game changers and we leaned into telework right from the start.

For the last three decades, the ADA has provided a roadmap to states, organizations, and companies on how to make sure people with disabilities get the accommodations and accessibility that provide them with a fulfilling life. My hope is that we can continue to further the gains that the ADA has brought to millions of individuals with disabilities over the past 30 years. In doing so, businesses such as The Hershey Company are much better and stronger workplaces.

Alicia Petross is Vice President of Talent Acquisition, Diversity and Inclusion at The Hershey Company. 

NOD is proud to count The Hershey Company as a longtime member of the Corporate Leadership Council and a sponsor of Look Closer, our national awareness campaign. NOD has named Hershey a Leading Disability Employer for four consecutive years since the award debuted in 2016. In 2017, Alicia explained in an interview with NOD why she is personally committed to expanding disability inclusion at The Hershey Company.

VIDEO: Eli Lilly’s Chairman and CEO Dave Ricks Celebrates the ADA at 30

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, members of the NOD Corporate Leadership Council and sponsors of our Look Closer awareness campaign are sharing messages from their Chief Executive Officers discussing why disability inclusion matters to their organizations.
In this video, hear Eli Lilly and Company’s Chairman and CEO Dave Ricks commemorate this historic milestone.

We thank Eli Lilly and Mr. Ricks for sharing this inspiring message and their efforts to remove barriers in the workplace and improve accessibility for employees with disabilities.

VIDEO: Hilton President and CEO Christopher J. Nassetta Celebrates the ADA at 30

To celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, members of the NOD Corporate Leadership Council and sponsors of our Look Closer awareness campaign are sharing messages from their Chief Executive Officers discussing why disability inclusion matters to their organizations.

To kick off the celebration, here’s a video from Hilton Worldwide President and CEO Christopher J. Nassetta.

We thank Hilton Worldwide President and CEO Christopher J. Nassetta for addressing the importance of ADA 30 and for the work they are doing to create more inclusive environments for all of their team members as they continue to shed light and warmth for their guests around the world.

Gov. Tom Ridge + Ted Kennedy Jr.: People with disabilities see huge job losses; will pandemic roll back ADA gains?

Worker in a wheelchai

By Former Gov. Tom Ridge and Ted Kennedy Jr., Opinion Contributors — 07/22/20 09:30 AM EDT

Thirty years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law, giving people with disabilities their hard-fought civil rights — the first comprehensive law addressing the needs of people with disabilities. President George H.W. Bush once confided it was among his proudest achievements.

We mark this significant anniversary this Sunday, July 26, but there is a cloud hanging over any celebrating. As we consider the enormous implications of the novel coronavirus on our society, we are worried about how this crisis ends for people with disabilities. We also are concerned there could be a rolling back of the gains we’ve seen since the ADA became law.

We hear the anxiety in their voices when people with disabilities discuss concerns about being on the losing end of COVID-19 medical care rationing or when they can’t keep direct care givers coming to their home as the pandemic continues to spread. And we are deeply troubled by the staggering unemployment rate for people with disabilities that will, without a doubt, rise even higher given the grim economics we now face together.

In early May, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Jobs Report showed that in March and April alone nearly 1 million working-age people with disabilities lost their jobs — a 20 percent reduction. By comparison, 14 percent of working-age people without disabilities lost their jobs in that timeframe. This, however, does not have to be the story that comes out of this crisis. We can make changes now that will profoundly alter its ending.

We can create a difference by being sure hospitals are not using physical and mental challenges as a criterion for who should and should not receive life-saving aid. Doctors make decisions on care based on a myriad of things. One of the main factors should not be whether someone has a disability.

We also can make a difference through bipartisan efforts on COVID-19 relief. One way is through the continuing legislative recovery package that Congress is working on. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) have introduced legislation that would create specific grants for states through Medicaid for the Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) program to make certain Medicaid funding is used to support individuals with disabilities. The funds would ensure long-term home- and community-based services continue uninterrupted.

Funding for HCBS will ensure that people with disabilities who can work get back on the job quickly as part of our country’s overall recovery efforts, something the National Organization on Disability and the American Association of People with Disabilities, whose boards we chair, wholly support.

Given the enormous issues faced by people with disabilities, Congress should consider creating a task force that can focus on efforts to make sure the 57 million Americans with disabilities are not left behind as our nation’s economy starts moving forward again.

If this pandemic has taught us one thing it is that, with the right accommodations, staff can work remotely, and do so well. It is something people with disabilities have been saying for years: If given the proper equipment at home, they can be productive employees. We hope with the successes they have seen with telework, more business leaders will realize people with disabilities are an untapped resource they should pursue. And adding this kind of diversity positively changes the spirit of a company, not to mention its productivity.

Before the current economic crisis, the employment-to-population ratio for working-age people with disabilities was historically high, even so, it was only at 31 percent. This is compared to 75 percent for working-age people without disabilities. With the last hired, first fired rule that many companies follow, we are seeing people with disabilities are among the first people to lose their jobs.

We can’t let anyone fall behind from the pandemic, let alone some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Three decades ago, the passage of the ADA was celebrated as a way of ending discrimination against anyone with disabilities. The politics at that time allowed a bipartisan group of lawmakers to champion sweeping legislation that has shaped every aspect of society.

The law’s passage should be something we all feel immensely proud about — and want to see strengthened further during the next 30 years.

The political situation today often prevents this from happening, but if we are willing to once again work across party lines, we can come together to make sure people with disabilities have the resources, tools, and — just as important — our empathy, to manage this crisis and prosper in the post-coronavirus era.

Tom Ridge was the 43rd governor of Pennsylvania and first U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security; he serves as board chairman of the National Organization on Disability.

Ted Kennedy Jr., is a disability rights lawyer and partner in the Health Care and Life Sciences practice at Epstein, Becker & Green; he served on President Reagan’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities and worked for passage of the ADA. He is board chairman of the American Association of People with Disabilities.

This op-ed was originally published on The Hill.