Are We Beginning to Narrow the Gap on Disability Inclusion in the Workplace?
By Carol Glazor, President of NOD
After decades of seeing no real change, something finally may be shifting, and more people with disabilities are finding jobs.
NOD’s 2021 Employment Tracker shows that the percentage of new hires with disabilities among major employers is increasing. While the numbers are still too low, it is more progress than we have seen in a generation.
I believe the reason is a convergence of a few things. The constant drumbeat about the need for disability inclusiveness in the workforce from organizations such as ours. People with disabilities also have been caught in the more recent rising tide of awareness about discrimination and inequity, along with other marginalized groups.
Even though people with disabilities are disproportionately represented in low-wage, high-contact jobs that can’t be done remotely, others of us who for years asked for remote work as an accommodation, won that right during the pandemic.
And there’s always the economy. While job openings reached historically high levels in the spring, businesses are scrambling to find workers. Increasingly, they’re turning to previously-untapped labor sources.
We still have a long way to go, especially as nearly 1 million people with disabilities lost their jobs during the beginning months of COVID. But the numbers are ticking upward. The labor force participation rate for working-age people with disabilities increased from 32.7 percent in September 2020 to 36.4 percent in September 2021, up 11.3 percent or 3.7 percentage points. For people without disabilities, the labor force participation rate also increased, but at a much lower rate — only 0.8 percentage points, from 75.7 percent in 2020 to 76.5 percent in September 2021.
In other good signs, NOD’s Leadership Council made up of companies seeking to better their disability workforce numbers, added eleven new members in 2021, the largest increase we’ve seen since the Council was created. The number of companies filling out our Employment Tracker survey that gauges performance in disability workforce inclusion increased by 20%, to a new high of 228 companies.
And we could see even bigger gains. The Biden administration is focused on increasing funding for “Home and Community-Based Services,” which will allow more people with disabilities to get and hold jobs, and is asking Congress to provide grants to states to phase out subminimum wages for people with disabilities.
This is all positive, and as we close out National Disability Employment Awareness Month, I am happy to have more to say this year than the usual list of apprehensions and negative statistics about job numbers. This is no time to celebrate, however. More companies need to include everyone when they have job openings, and Congress needs to act on behalf of people with disabilities.