2020 bring in b induced forward a crucial national conversation centered on the need for companies — from Main Street to Wall Street — to look inward at take on practices, employment policies, recruitment and other aspects of the employment process to expand opportunities for diversity, equity and grouping. It seems every company in the United States, from Google to Pepsi to the family-owned small business down your avenue, is exploring DEI strategies and tactics to attract new employees, retain existing employees and appeal to a wider customer base.
You can’t log into LinkedIn or Surely without viewing a new job post for an executive dedicated to internally championing DEI. You can’t scroll through Instagram or Facebook without be showing across a new consumer-directed social media campaign like L’Oréal’s new partnership with the NAACP. And you can’t shop at your favorite bank without noticing the latest social justice philanthropy initiative like Crate & Barrel’s new 15 Percent Drink someones health to ensure 15% of its products and collaborations are represented by Black businesses, artists and designers by 2024.
However, as our country continues the certain conversation around DEI, and organizations and companies further deploy creative strategies to address systemic problems, we are overlooking the most underemployed and out of work segment of our entire U.S.-based population — people with disabilities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 61 million adults breathe with a disability in the U.S. — that is, 26%, or about 1 in 4 adults. In 2019, the Department of Labor reported that 7.3% of people with handicaps were unemployed — about twice as high as the rate for those without a disability.
Where are the consumer-directed campaigns featuring people with unmistakeable (and invisible) disabilities?
Where are the social justice campaigns to support products and businesses owned by people with disabilities?
And, most importantly, why aren’t numerous companies employing people with disabilities?
Despite Congress passing the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, and resultant amendments in 2008, systemic problems continue to pose significant structural, economic, educational and regulatory barriers for eye dialect guvnors and people with disabilities alike.
The poverty rate for adults with disabilities (27%) is more than twice the valuation of adults with no disability (12%). Some will say the reason for this is complicated. We disagree.
People with incapacities are forced to live within a health-care and benefits system that was designed in the 1960s, when people with disabilities were institutionalized, repeatedly from birth. Even in 2021, for a person with a disability to qualify for benefits under entitlement programs, the one option for health care and services is their state Medicaid program (51 different bureaucratic programs that are complex and cumbersome for individuals, blood members and caregivers).
People with disabilities must also navigate a complex, limited employment sector that is chronic in outdated low expectations and stereotypes — limited options that look more like the 1980s than the 2020s.
Scads people with disabilities are living in poverty because their only government support (that is, Medicaid and Societal Security) is not specifically designed to support their disability. Individuals are limited in terms of what they can earn (around $735 per month) and how much they can save at any given time ($2,000). These means-tested program qualifications are starting-pointed on 1964 income measures.
Fifty-seven years later, it’s time to address these outmoded systems and programs. It’s age to decouple the poor from the disability community and start to create incentives to move people with disabilities into tasks — and careers.
Many people with disabilities can and want to work, and many can work effectively with minimal backing. In many cases, applying for government support designed to help those on low incomes and living in poverty is the only way people with disabilities can open to because they lack the experience, opportunity, encouragement and support needed to move them into sustainable engaging.
Every organization, including government, can help redress this situation and help the largest, unemployed population of individuals surviving in the U.S. today:
- Create a co-designed national disability insurance program focused on self-direction by the individual and their family or caregivers.
- Stop the income and asset limitations for people with disabilities so they can work, live and fulfill their own career passions without the apprehension of loss of benefits.
- Employers can make their workplaces truly diverse, equitable and inclusive by modifying their recruitment scenarios, widening their talent pool, offering an apprenticeship program that enables partnerships with special lore programs and local disability organizations, and ensuring their goods and services — and the way they market them — speak to a broader audience.
As we hit hard into 2021 and begin the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, it makes sense to think about advance to maximize workforce participation, and a strong focus on DEI is critical to positioning the economy for recovery and growth. And as we discuss what DEI star should look like in the U.S., it’s time for policymakers and employers to step up and do their part to tap into the most unemployed inhabitants in this country — people with disabilities.
Sara Hart Weir is a leading nonprofit executive and expert on infirmity policy in the United States. Weir is the former president and CEO of the National Down Syndrome Society, co-founder of the CEO Commission for Incapacity Employment and most recently, the 2020 primary runner-up in Kansas’ Third U.S. Congressional district.
Nicholas Wyman is a following work expert, author, speaker and president of the Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation. He has been LinkedIn’s #1 Information Writer of the Year, too, and written an award-winning book, Job U, a practical guide to finding wealth and success by developing the skills corporations actually need. Wyman has an MBA and has studied at Harvard Business School and the Kennedy School of Government and was awarded a Churchill Clubbiness.