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Advocate for hiring people with disabilities (Opinion)

Diversity, equity and inclusion are at the forefront of many conversations, particularly regarding employment practices. The discussion generally centers around gender, race and sexual orientation but often overlooks or neglects disability.

The U.S. economy is facing a labor crisis, and we are feeling it in our community. The Labor Department reported in July that employers posted 10.9 million jobs, the most on record dating back to 2000. With companies facing increasing hiring demands, now is the ideal time for them to include people with disabilities in their expanded diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. People with disabilities are sorely underrepresented in the labor pool, and it is time for this to change.

There are many misconceptions about what people with disabilities can and cannot do, and this in its own way is a form of discrimination that has led to disproportionatey high rates of unemployment and poverty among this group. Like all people, individuals with disabilities cannot be painted with a broad brush stroke — we each have strengths that we bring to our work and areas where we need help or additional training.

Easterseals is committed to changing the way the world defines and views disability and building equitable work environments for people with disabilities. As we rebuild the economy, Easterseals is asking local businesses to commit to diverse, inclusive and just workplaces where employees with disabilities are included, valued and paid fair wages.

Studies have shown that corporations deemed “disability inclusion champions” realize higher shareholder returns and are twice as likely to outperform their peers. They achieve 30% higher profit margins than companies that do not include people with disabilities in diversity and inclusion strategies. Consider that if just 1% of people with disabilities join the workforce, the gross domestic product could expand up to $25 billion.

Today, nearly 26% (one in four) adults live with a disability from loss of mobility, cognition, hearing and/or vision, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of people with disabilities ages 16-64 (working-age population), 32.9% are employed compared with 73.1% of the same group of persons without disabilities. The disparity continues with the unemployment rate of 9.7% compared with 4.3%, more than twice that of those without disabilities. Equally troubling is the pay gap. According to 2018 census data, employed Americans with disabilities earned 66% of what their peers were paid.

During the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of workers with disabilities lost their jobs and are navigating a different labor force. Beyond the challenges of this fundamental change, many people face obstacles such as inaccessible physical environments; inadequate assistive tools and technologies; negative attitudes within the work environment among colleagues; lack of accessible transportation and systems and policies that often fall short.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, attempted to address the needs of people with disabilities. However, 31 years later, more work is needed to address the rights of these individuals in the workforce to support economic self-sufficiency.

To address the employment needs of Pennsylvanians with disabilities, Governor Tom Wolf and the Governor’s Cabinet for People with Disabilities created the Employment First Act, Act 36 in 2018. It outlines the commonwealth’s policy recommendations through an initial three-year plan and addresses policies, resources, and vocational training for people with disabilities for work in adult life. In July, Pennsylvania Act 69 was signed into law. Under the law, residents with disabilities who want to earn an income and become independent are able to do so without risking the loss of potentially lifesaving benefits.

Easterseals urges you to join the effort to break down the barriers faced by our neighbors who live with a disability and are unable to find meaningful work. Become an ally for people with disabilities by encouraging your employer, your colleagues, and your government representatives ensure that disability is well represented in all diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

Nancy Knoebel is CEO of Easterseals Eastern Pennsylvania.

Source: Berkshire mont

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