Op-Ed by Gov. Tom Ridge: Bridging the digital divide for students with disabilities 

Tom Ridge speaks at the 2018 NOD September Forum
BY FORMER GOV. TOM RIDGE, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR — 11/10/20 11:30 AM EST

The unexpected shift to the remote workplace and classroom brought on by COVID-19 has left many families across the country with inequitable access to devices and technology infrastructure, a problem known as the digital divide. For students with disabilities, the digital divide is not only an issue of access to broadband and technological devices, but also about ensuring that the technology is inclusive for their needs.

Remote learning is especially challenging for students with disabilities who require specialized instruction and accommodations to access high-quality education, and the digital divide exacerbates this challenge.

If students with disabilities are not given the supports they need to learn with technology, then we will effectively be locking them out of the workforce and perpetuating a cycle of unequal treatment.

Throughout my career, I have worked to ensure that people with disabilities are served by our institutions and have the same opportunities as others to participate in education, the workforce, and our society. As governor of Pennsylvania, I invested millions in educational technology and led work to create model digital schools that would advance districts’ abilities to innovate and provide cutting-edge technologies in our schools. I have continued to advocate for equal treatment of people with disabilities, especially in the workforce, as the chair of the National Organization on Disability. Leaders cannot forget the importance of providing special education services to students, especially in the virtual or hybrid learning environments so many students are facing this tumultuous school year.

The digital divide continues to result in inequitable device and internet access — especially for people with disabilities. According to data from the Pew Research Center, Americans with disabilities are less likely to go online, less likely to have access to high-speed internet, less likely to have devices such as a smartphone, laptop computer, or tablet, and less likely to have a high degree of confidence in their use of technology. These barriers prevent students with disabilities from learning, honing their talents, and gaining the skills they need to enter an increasingly technology-focused economy. Another challenge is that frequently used technologies, like Zoom, are not made to be inclusive for people with disabilities. Studies have found that some disabilities make it difficult for users to orient themselves to online tasks like navigating websites and selecting results. With schools moving to digital learning during the pandemic, policymakers and leaders must understand and address the challenges facing students with disabilities as they navigate this mode of instruction.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that special education services are provided to public school students across the country. Despite this, the pandemic has disrupted student access to the specialized instruction, interventions, and accommodations provided through their Individualized Education Plans. Parents are stressed about the loss of learning and skills, with 53 percent of parents of students with disabilities feeling very concerned versus 40 percent of all parents.

Schools need to consider the unique needs of students with disabilities and prepare to serve them while also supporting parents to be better equipped as remote learning continues. Many companies have stepped up to make their technology more inclusive to workers with disabilities. Our schools must do the same and work towards a more inclusive design in hybrid or remote classrooms.

We must address the digital divide for students with disabilities, and make sure they are receiving the services they require and deserve. Congress has allocated $13.23 billion in CARES Act funding to help school districts manage challenges brought on by the pandemic, and more federal stimulus dollars must come. Schools and policymakers can start by evaluating their current practices for working remotely with students with disabilities. They must also ensure that families have access to the resources and services they need to help their child be successful and pursue their passions.

Barriers must be removed to ensure that students with disabilities have access to high-quality instruction that meets their unique learning needs. There is no time to waste.


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.

This op-ed was originially published in The Hill.

The Time Is Now For Companies To Advance Their Workforce Disability Inclusion Practices

Enhanced Disability Employment Tracker Helps Large and Small Companies Make a More Inclusive Workforce a Reality

NEW YORK (October 27, 2020) – In celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the National Organization on Disability (NOD) is proud to launch its redesigned Disability Employment Tracker assessment, the only assessment tool available that focuses on the workforce, to help companies better evaluate the effectiveness of their disability inclusion policies and practices.  In its eighth year – and with companies who together employ more than 10 million Americans already taking the annual survey – the NOD Tracker assists companies to make disability inclusion part of their overall business strategy and to find the right talent while removing inclusion barriers.

Aiming at making the Tracker an even more effective resource for companies in 2021, NOD partnered with Talmetrix, a national employee feedback, research and insights’ company. By utilizing recent market research, the two organizations created a dynamic benchmarking disability assessment tool that provides companies with the cutting-edge, outcome-based data metrics they need to build a more inclusive workforce which is proven to enhance innovation and increase engagement with employees and customers.

“Individuals with disabilities make up 20 percent of the U.S. population, the largest diversity group, and including them in hiring decisions increases a company’s talent pool exponentially,” said NOD President Carol Glazer.  “The 2021 Tracker is the only tool in the field that can provide a company with the data they need to better understand how to improve their self-ID rates and workforce inclusion practices, as well as have a deeper correlation of key practices with outcomes related to hiring, tenure, promotions and engagement. I want to challenge all companies to take the 2021 Tracker and join our winning Corporate Leadership Council team to advance their disability inclusion practices.”

Previous Tracker data shows that NOD’s Corporate Leadership Council (CLC) member companies performed better and were more effective at implementing best practices, programs, and policies. Specifically, CLC companies have 3% higher self ID rates and are 21% better than non-members at adopting the most effective disability inclusion practices.

Companies who complete the Tracker by March 5, 2021 receive a free Scorecard report, benchmarking their performance against all other participants in key workforce inclusion areas: (Strategy, Metrics, Climate & Culture, Talent Sourcing, People Practices, Workplace Tools & Accessibility, and Veterans (optional). The 2021 Scorecard reports will be available for participating companies in the spring of 2021.  In addition to receiving this powerful benchmarking tool, top performing companies are eligible to compete for NOD’s annual Leading Disability Employer Seal.  A list of the 2020 Leading Disability Employers can be found here.

Companies can access the free NOD Disability Employment Tracker here.


About National Organization on Disability (NOD) and Talmetrix Partnership

The partnership between NOD and Talmetrix, Inc. blends advocacy with the current demands of the business community. NOD has decades of years of experience partnering with companies, large and small, to develop and grow hiring initiatives which provides a unique perspective on developing workforces based on employers’ needs.  Talmetrix has more than a decade of experience in capturing employee feedback and data on culture, inclusion, engagement and organizational effectiveness and brings extensive expertise to the survey design, analysis, and insights. Talmetrix administers the online survey platform and ensures confidentiality and data security.

About National Organization on Disability

The National Organization on Disability (NOD) is a private, non-profit organization that seeks to increase employment opportunities for the 80-percent of working age Americans with disabilities who are not employed. To achieve this goal, NOD offers a suite of employment solutions, tailored to meet leading companies’ workforce needs. NOD has helped some of the world’s most recognized brands to be more competitive in today’s global economy by building or enriching their disability inclusion programs. For more information about NOD and how its professional services, Corporate Leadership Council and Disability Employment Tracker™ can help your business, visit www.NOD.org.

This year marks the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, one of the most comprehensive and sweeping pieces of civil rights legislation in our nation’s history.  For more information about the ADA 30 and how NOD is celebrating this milestone event, please visit www.nod/ada30.org.

About Talmetrix

Talmetrix, an employee feedback, research and insights’ company powers multiple human capital benchmarks. Talmetrix humanizes employee and organizational data to elevate performance and productivity. Through its technology, solutions and services, Talmetrix enables organizations to listen for and respond to the factors influencing employee experience, culture and organizational performance.

Talmetrix administers the online survey platform and ensures confidentiality and data security. For more information about Talmetrix, please visit http://www.talmetrix.com/.

Fourteen Of The Nation’s Largest Disability Organizations Join Together To Encourage Disability Community To Vote On November 3rd

NEW YORK (October 26, 2020) – Fourteen of the nation’s largest disability organizations have joined together to urge all Americans who care about issues related to disability to vote on November 3rd. These organizations today released the following collective statement:

“COVID-19 is a unique burden for people with disabilities. Lives have been lost. Isolation exacerbated. Unemployment skyrocketing. The policy issues on the ballot this November impacts every aspect of life for the disability community. We must vote in record numbers to have our voices heard and needs met in the ongoing public health emergency.

“People with disabilities form an increasingly large, powerful, and potentially decisive percentage of the electorate in key battleground states and across the country.  A projected 38 million eligible voters have a disability and millions more live with someone who has a disability. Taken together, more than 25% of the American electorate may be motivated by issues affecting the disability community.

“These issues include funding for Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) to support health care needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. HCBS helps individuals with disabilities receive services at home as appropriate. HCBS is also important to help individuals with disabilities work, by hiring direct support staff, including job coaches, so that those who can work at this time have the supports they need to do so safely and effectively. And when individuals with disabilities work, we hope to see that they are paid fair wages with a phasing-out of section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which allows individuals with disabilities to be paid subminimum wages. These, among other issues, are essential to the future success of individuals with disabilities.

“Fourteen of the nation’s largest disability organizations are unified in message and purpose. We encourage all of our members to vote!”

Official signers:

American Association of People with Disabilities

Association of People Supported Employment

Association of University Centers on Disabilities

Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Autism Society of America

The Bazelon Center

Center for Public Representation

Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination

National Council on Independent Living

National Down Syndrome Congress

National Down Syndrome Society

National Federation of the Blind

National Organization on Disability

RespectAbility


Should you have questions about voting, please view the resources from the American Association of People with Disabilities, Association of University Centers on Disabilities, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the Bazelon Center, National Down Syndrome Congress, National Down Syndrome Society, and RespectAbility.  

 

 

 

VIDEO: PSEG’s CEO 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 mark this historic milestone, hear from Ralph Izzo, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Public Service Enterprise Group Incorporated (PSEG).

Mr. Izzo shares how PSEG is proud to support the goals of the ADA. That’s why PSEG is working to promote an accessible and inclusive workplace and creating opportunities for employees with disabilities to thrive.


NOD is grateful to PSEG for being a sponsor of the 2020 Annual Forum Webcast: “ADA at 30: What’s Next”.

Caring for Her Son with Disabilities Led to a New Career

The president of the National Organization on Disability helped her child overcome a lifetime of challenges.

By Carol Glazer | Sep 25, 2020

The conference floor was buzzing last May in Minneapolis, where I was speaking as president of the National Organization on Disability, a private nonprofit that focuses on increasing employment opportunities for Americans with disabilities.

I wasn’t alone at the conference: My 27-year-old son, Jacob, who himself has disabilities, had traveled with me from our home in New York City. “It’s ability, not disability, that counts,” Jacob proudly told the attendees, despite complaining of feeling sick to his stomach earlier.

By the time we landed back in New York the next day, Jacob was in a lot of pain. So as we had more than 40 times before, we rushed to the emergency room at New York University Medical Center, the same hospital where Jacob had been born with hydrocephalus—a rare, potentially fatal fluid blockage surrounding the brain—and had his first surgery to install a shunt to drain the fluid. Was the shunt malfunctioning again?

Yes, but this time it wasn’t the part implanted in his brain. Instead, it was the end of the shunt that emptied fluid out through the peritoneal cavity in his abdomen. The hospital pumped Jacob’s stomach twice, but his bowel was still obstructed. He would need another risky surgery—Surgery Number 31, to be exact. Every time, my own stomach churned knowing there was a chance Jacob wouldn’t survive or would come out of the operation with additional challenges.

Uncertainty had dogged us every step of the way with Jacob. It wasn’t the hydrocephalus itself that had caused his physical and cognitive disabilities. A hospital-acquired bacterial infection had inflicted considerable brain damage, leaving my then-husband and me with nothing but questions and confusion: Would our son ever be able to walk? How much would he be able to see? What would his level of cognitive functioning be?

The answers came, though slowly: Jacob walks with a slight limp; he is severely visually impaired; he reads at a third-grade level.

Through early intervention treatments and multiple therapies, and with New York’s unparalleled special education system, he has thrived—a happy, clever, busy and loving young man.

As he approached puberty, Jacob wanted to be bar mitzvahed to celebrate becoming a man with his faith community. When I inquired, our rabbi said our temple didn’t have the capability to do that for Jacob. I was devastated. “Every Shabbat, we pray for the Jews in Russia, in Argentina, but here you have a member of your own congregation who needs you,” I said. “Where is the inclusivity?”

The next day, the rabbi called and said she hadn’t slept the night before, thinking about Jacob, and that she would help put together a program for him to learn the Hebrew he needed to read his passage from the Torah. Jacob spent more than two years learning the Hebrew phonetically and was bar mitzvahed on time at age 13. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when he finished reading the sacred text, and the program we developed is still used citywide.

At NYU Medical Center, the staff know us so well, they always let me put on scrubs to go with Jacob into the operating room and stay until they put him under. As he lay on the OR table that day last May, I told him he’d be able to get back to work soon, back to his three-day-a-week job, helping out at the 14th Street Y, even though I didn’t know if that were true.

“What do you like best about your job?” I asked to distract him.

“I like delivering the mail to everyone,” he said. “And I like taking the 6 train to get there!” Jacob is fully travel-trained; at this point, he has the entire New York City subway system memorized.

The nurse slipped the oxygen mask over his face. “And I want to play basketball and go to my songwriting class, and eat pizza with my friends,” Jacob murmured.

His voice trailed off, and I was left to imagine what life might be like if he didn’t wake up. No more making French toast and waffles together on Sunday mornings and quibbling about who does the dishes. No more chatty walks through Central Park after dinner. No more going to see funny movies—Steve Martin is Jacob’s favorite actor—or to Broadway musicals.

Yet even in these extreme situations, I still love being the CEO of Jacob, Inc., as I started calling myself many years ago. My job is to find out his preferences and his needs as he perceives them and to help him, whether it’s presenting him with choices or drawing him out. But that’s not my only job.

When Jacob was little, I worked in affordable housing development. In 2005, when he was 13, I was offered a consultancy for the National Organization on Disability, or NOD, based on my public policy experience. I had to think long and hard about whether to accept the position—did I really want to live disability 24/7?

Work had always been a welcome distraction for me, a much-needed way to keep balance in my life. But then I rewatched Geraldo Rivera’s 1972 exposé on the inhumane conditions at Willowbrook State School, the institution for the intellectually disabled in Staten Island. And I saw, in the wake of that scandal, how the mothers of those children successfully organized to bring about the Education for All Handicapped Children Act.

All those mothers before me had made it possible for Jacob to have a wonderful education, so why on earth wasn’t I giving my talents to a movement that had made such an impact on my family? In 2009, I took over as president of NOD, and I haven’t looked back.

As the hours of Jacob’s surgery ticked by, I lay down on the little pull-out couch in his hospital room, where I’d spent so many sleepless nights. I thought back to the time when he was eight and suffered a shunt malfunction while I was on a business trip to Boston. It was 2000, and I didn’t yet have a cell phone.

After a quick calculation, I realized that between the flight and cab rides to and from the airports, I would be completely in the dark about my son’s condition for well over two hours. Should I jump on the next flight to New York, I thought, or should I stay here close to a phone?

I decided I needed to be there with Jacob, so I rushed for the next flight. On the plane, I sat with my hands gripping the seat rest, looking out into the vastness of the clear blue sky, above even the clouds. This is entirely out of my hands, I thought. I am so insignificant, and as much as I try to take care of everything for my son, I have to trust in the power that’s outside of me, a power greater than myself and even greater than my love for my son.

And so here, almost 20 years later, back at NYU Medical Center, I again opened myself to complete acceptance of the situation before me, although it taxes the entire fiber of my being every time. After several hours, Jacob was out of surgery. The doctor said they’d been able to clear the obstruction, caused by scarring from multiple shunt surgeries.

A couple days later, I listened as Jacob held bedside court with the doctors and residents, regaling them with the song he’d written: “I’m made up of kindness,” he sang. “I have a good heart. Sometimes I’m funny. I’m pretty smart.” I never cease to be amazed by that light, that smile, that spirit that are so manifest in Jacob, this young man of mine who has had his work cut out for him from Day One.

“That’s my mom,” he told the doctors, pointing to me. “She’s a very famous person, and she’s nice.”

It’s an ongoing challenge being both the CEO of Jacob, Inc., and the president of NOD, but they’re forever entwined in my heart, and I wouldn’t trade my life for anything in the world.


This article was originally published on Guideposts.org.

NOD Announces the 2020 ‘Leading Disability Employers’ at Event Marking the 30th Anniversary of the ADA

Cohort of Top Companies Recognized for Exemplary Disability Hiring and Employment Practices

New York (October 1, 2020) – At the National Organization on Disability (NOD)’s Annual Forum, entitled “ADA at 30: What’s Next”, 68 companies were honored as 2020 NOD Leading Disability Employers.  Now in its sixth year, the NOD Leading Disability Employer Seal recognizes companies that demonstrate exemplary employment practices for people with disabilities. This annual recognition is designed to commend those organizations that are leading the way in disability hiring and to encourage other companies to tap into the many benefits of hiring talent with disabilities, including strong consumer preference for companies that employ individuals with disabilities and greater employee engagement across the workforce.

“America’s success in the world depends on how well we inspire and put to use the talents and energies of every person in this country,” said NOD Chairman Governor Tom Ridge.  “It was the vision of President George H.W. Bush, who signed the ADA into law, that no ability is to be wasted and that everyone has a full and equal chance to play a part in our national progress. We at NOD remain committed to seeing that vision fulfilled by working closely with corporate America to help them achieve their disability inclusion goals. These 68 organizations certainly have stepped up and are doing just that, and we applaud their leadership and thank them for their commitment to hiring people with disabilities.”

The 2020 NOD Leading Disability Employers are:

  • Accenture
  • American Heart Association
  • Anthem
  • AT&T
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
  • Blue Shield of California
  • The Boeing Company
  • BP America
  • Capital One
  • casaGnial – U/able
  • Centene Corporation
  • Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
  • Cigna
  • Comcast NBCUniversal
  • Cox Communications
  • Dow
  • DTE Energy
  • Eli Lilly and Company
  • Endeavors Unlimited
  • Eversource Energy
  • EY
  • FCA US
  • FirstEnergy
  • General Motors
  • The Hershey Company
  • Hilton Worldwide
  • Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey
  • Humana
  • Idaho National Laboratory
  • Kaiser Permanente
  • KeyBank
  • KPMG
  • Lockheed Martin
  • L’Oréal USA
  • Marriott International
  • Martinsburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center
  • Mastercard
  • Mayo Clinic
  • Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute
  • National Grid
  • National Security Agency
  • Nautilus Hyosung America
  • New Editions Consulting
  • Northrop Grumman
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Project HIRED
  • Prudential Financial
  • Puerto Rico Industries for the Blind
  • PwC
  • Randstad US
  • Reed Smith
  • SEI Investments Company
  • Sempra Energy
  • Sony Electronics
  • Tata Consultancy Services | Tata America International
  • TD Bank
  • Tennessee Valley Authority
  • TIAA
  • U.S. Bank
  • United Airlines
  • Unum Group
  • Syracuse Veterans Affairs Medical Center
  • Vertical Harvest
  • The Viscardi Center
  • Walgreens
  • WeCo Accessibility Services
  • Wells Fargo & Company
  • Yale New Haven Health

The NOD Leading Disability Employer Seal is awarded based on data provided by companies in response to the NOD Disability Employment Tracker™, a free and confidential assessment that benchmarks companies’ disability inclusion programs in the following areas:

  • Climate & Culture
  • People Practices
  • Talent Sourcing
  • Workplace & Technology
  • Strategy & Metrics

While the Tracker is confidential, organizations may opt to be considered for the NOD Leading Disability Employer Seal. Responses are scored, taking into account both disability employment practices and performance. Scoring prioritizes practices that are associated with increased disability employment outcomes over time, and companies receive additional points based on the percentage of people with disabilities in their workforce.

To be considered for the 2021 NOD Leading Disability Employer Seal, companies must complete the Disability Employment Tracker during the qualifying window. Sign up to be notified when the 2021 Disability Employment Tracker opens this October.

NOD BRINGS TOGETHER GLOBAL DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION LEADERS, CELEBRITIES AND POLICY INFLUENCERS TO HONOR THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT AT ANNUAL FORUM

GOVERNOR TOM RIDGE PRESENTS AWARDS TO INDIVIDUALS AND ORGANIZATIONS MAKING EXCEPTIONAL CONTRIBUTIONS IN DISABILITY INCLUSION                                            

NEW YORK (September 30, 2020) – Today, more than 300 diversity and inclusion leaders from global companies attended the National Organization on Disability’s (NOD) Annual Forum presented by platinum-level sponsors Prudential Financial, Spectrum and Target. The inspiring two-hour webcast entitled, “ADA at 30: What’s Next?”, addressed the challenges and opportunities of building a more disability inclusive society in the midst of the global pandemic and the fight for social and economic justice in our country.

The program paid homage to the activists, officials and allies who enacted the ADA and its promise of equality, and those who fulfilled that legacy by breaking down barriers for Americans with disabilities, especially in the workforce.  Leaders of yesterday and today examined progress made in increasing disability employment and barriers to employment that still remain. The forum, emceed by actors and disability advocates Danny Woodburn (Seinfeld) and Robert David Hall (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation), featured an influential group of speakers and topics including:

  • A meaningful discussion with disability rights activist Judy Heumann and disability policy expert Lex Frieden that explored how grassroots activism led to the landmark civil rights legislation in 1990, and how those lessons can be used today to close the disability employment gap.
  • A message from Senator Robert P. Casey addressing what the ADA means today and how to preserve the gains made by the disability community in a turbulent political and economic era.
  • A practical discussion, moderated by Mike Shebanek from Facebook, with esteemed panelists Director of Accessibility Jake Konerza, Target, and Vice President of Accessibility Steve Raymond, Charter about how the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the virtual workplace, where accessible technology is critical to productivity and engagement.
  • Other speakers included NOD Chairman Governor Tom Ridge, NOD President Carol Glazer and Prudential Financial Chairman and CEO Charles Lowrey.

“I applaud all of the companies who participated in NOD’s Annual Forum as they are making a purposeful and laudatory commitment to hiring people with disabilities and creating an inclusive workplace that allows all people to thrive,” said NOD Chairman Governor Tom Ridge. “While we owe a great deal to the activists that sparked the disability rights movement, actually fulfilling the promise of the ADA requires all of us to do our part. Business and community leaders must continue to come together, as we are doing right now, to reaffirm their belief in and commitment to a truly inclusive workforce and a truly inclusive America.”

In addition, Chairperson Governor Tom Ridge presented three distinguished awards to the following honorees:

  • The Kessler Foundation, a pillar in the disability community for its philanthropic support, received the Alan A. Reich Award for its exceptional contributions in disability inclusion.  This award, named in honor of NOD’s founder who helped spark a movement to ensure people with disabilities were represented equally in all aspects of life, is given to an established leader who is advancing disability rights.
  • The Coca-Cola Company, one of the most respected global brands in the world, received the Charles F. Dey Award for their significant efforts to ensure that disability plays a vital role in the diversity and inclusion equation in both the company and the foundation.
  • Judy Heumann received the NOD Lifetime Achievement Award for her tireless efforts to make the ADA a reality for millions of individuals with disabilities and her continued work to build a brighter and stronger future for many more.

Lastly, 68 organizations were honored as the 2020 NOD Leading Disability Employers for their exemplary hiring and employment practices for people with disabilities. Now in its sixth year, the NOD Leading Disability Employer Seal is awarded to the top performers on NOD’s Disability Employment Tracker, a free and confidential assessment that benchmarks companies’ disability inclusion programs.

About the Leading Disability Employer Seal + Disability Employment Tracker

To see current and past winners of the NOD Leading Disability Employer seal, visit www.NOD.org/seal.

To be considered for the 2021 NOD Leading Disability Employer seal, companies must complete the free and confidential Disability Employment Tracker assessment during the qualifying window. For more information and to sign up, visit www.NOD.org/tracker.

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.

Listen:

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