On a sunny day in late July 1990, U.S. President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities into law. In short, the law was designed to make it unlawful for people to be discriminated against because of a disability. Since the 30-plus years, many strides forward have been made to assist and protect the rights of people with disabilities. But many strides still need to be taken. One of those areas that have seen improvement, but a lot of work still remains, is in addressing unemployment for those with a disability.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 60% of those between the ages of 18-65 without a disability are employed. For the same age group, but for people with a disability or a disadvantage, less than 20 %of the population is employed. That was according to an announcement by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in February 2022.
“In 2021, 19.1% of persons with a disability were employed, up from 17.9% in 2020,” read the announcement. “For persons without a disability, 63.7% were employed in 2021, up from 61.8% in the prior year. The unemployment rates for persons with and without a disability declined from 2020 to 2021, to 10.1 % and 5.1%, respectively. Data for both groups reflect the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on the labor market.”
Recently, LinkedIn shared an article about workers with disabilities.
“The number of workers with disabilities has spiked by 900,000 since the outset of the pandemic, with new data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York suggesting long COVID is behind the trend,” the article says. “Those with disabilities typically face obstacles to employment, but if workers with long COVID are keeping their jobs, it means employers are accommodating employee needs. Remote and flexible working schedules likely contribute to creating a more accessible workforce.”
Common obstacles for those with disabilities and gaining employment include transportation and available resources, and one of the most common obstacles is hesitancy. Employers are often hesitant to hire workers with disabilities because they fear they need to devote more resources and time to train that employee, for example. There is also a fear about reliability as well as the ability to interact and be accepted by the rest of the staff.
What’s being looked over is workers with disabilities are more reliable than they are given credit for, they are dependable, they work hard, and are grateful to have the job, no matter how small it may be. That job could be as simple as janitorial work or filing. People with disabilities crave the opportunity to be functioning members of society. Having a job at least gives them that feeling.
Centers for Independence in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, highlighted that very fact during U.S. National Disability Employment Month in October with a video.
In the video, Sarah Baczanski, who works at AB Data in Milwaukee, said she likes having a job because it “lets me be a functioning member of society.” What Sarah does is simple. She scans envelopes and gets them ready to be mailed. AB Data specializes in class-action lawsuits. It’s a simple job, but one that can be hard to fill as the work is repetitive. However, it needs to be done. And that’s why if there are jobs open at a company that is having a hard time being filled, it’s time to consider employing someone with a disability.
A Forbes article in late October 2022, says, “And despite clear signs of recent progress, the employment gap for people with disabilities is still very wide.” As previously mentioned, but also mentioned in the Forbes article, a common reason for people with disabilities struggling to gain employment centers on perception and negative stigmas.
“Non-disabled people tend to view the negative effects of disabilities as much worse than they are. And disabled people still struggle to be seen as capable and valuable employees.”
This view is often proven untrue in a hurry when given a chance. Take Sarah for example. She’s become a valuable employee and is well-received by her colleagues and supervisors.
“They work great; they have a good work ethic and so to be able to employ them is a real good thing,” said Don Hellwig, supervisor of fulfillment at AB Data.
Here’s another example. Antwon Jackson works as a janitor at the Wisconsin Athletic Club in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He wipes down tables, does the laundry, and folds towels. Erin Schuler, the club’s general manager, gives high praise to Antwon, saying everyone loves him and she loves his smile every day at work. “He’s always happy to be at work, which is amazing,” Erin said.
Erin also points out a different value than employing someone with a disability. She points out the value it has for not only Antwon but more so for the rest of her staff at her club.
“I think the biggest thing is the awareness that it has brought even myself personally and our staff that there are people out there looking for these opportunities to be shown the workforce and what you can do with it and just knowing to be able to be included in that is cool,” she said.
One way to continue to push the initiative forward to employ more people with disabilities is thinking about this phrase: “Focus on the ability and not the disability.”
About the Author:
Nicholas Dettmann is the social media and digital specialist at the Centers for Independence in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It’s a position he’s held since 2019. Previously, he was a journalist for 20 years at various newspapers throughout the U.S. In that time, he won more than 40 awards for his writing. He is also a best-selling author. His book, “A Life Worth Dreaming About,” reached No. 2 on Authorhouse.com’s best-seller list.