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Employing People with Disabilities: Doing Well by Doing Good

October 11, 2005

Employing People with Disabilities: Doing Well by Doing Good

By Senator Tom Harkin

When I authored the Americans with Disabilities Act 15 years ago, my immediate aim was to fight discrimination and remove physical barriers. But I also wanted to remove the false dichotomy between Adisabled and “able.” I wanted Americans to recognize that people with disabilities – like all people – have unique abilities, talents, and aptitudes. And that our nation is better, fairer, and richer when we make full use of those gifts.

This October, as we observe National Disability Employment Awareness Month, it is time to celebrate the very real progress we have made in opening doors of opportunity. But it is also time to acknowledge that at a time when a majority of people with disabilities are not employed, we still have a long way to go to ensure equal opportunity for all Americans. Individuals with disabilities represent one of the largest untapped pools of skills and talents in our country.

Discrimination and negative stereotypes are not just wrong; they are also bad for business. They stand in the way of employers’ hiring the best qualified person for a given job – which often is a person with a disability. And they can hurt the bottom line. Bear in mind that, in the United States, some 50 million consumers with disabilities control more than $175 billion in discretionary income and are more likely to support businesses where they feel welcome. Having employees with disabilities – along with accessible stores, products and services – sends a message to customers with disabilities that their business is appreciated.

So here are some things employers can do to ensure individuals with disabilities equal access to employment opportunities:

  • Increase the pool of qualified job applicants by recruiting broadly and advertising in publications and places frequented by people with disabilities.
  • Make sure that job applicants with disabilities receive full and fair consideration – and not just for jobs that conform to stereotypes about people with disabilities.
  • Make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. Often this costs very little or nothing, and resources are available to assist employers in making these accommodations.

If you would like to step up your outreach to current or potential employees with disabilities, you should contact Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services at 515-281-4140. Assistance in figuring out accommodations for employees with disabilities is available through the Job Accommodations Network and the regional ADA Technical Assistance Center. These organizations have advisers who understand disability issues, and who can help you with accommodation methods, devices, and strategies.