Endings And New Beginnings In The Workforce For People With Disabilities 

Sep 4, 2020

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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.

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