I want to start by saying how proud I am of Kayla McKeon for making it as a lobbyist – a very demanding job (Klein, 8 Jun 18, Washington Post). I’ve come across other well-spoken self-advocates over the years, including several whom I had the pleasure of serving on Boards with. But I think more can, and should, be done.
While success stories, like Kayla’s, warm my heart; the unfortunate truth is there are many other individuals with disabilities who are not employed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2017 Economic News Release employment of those with disabilities was 18.7%, compared to 65.7% for those without a disability (US Dept of Labor).
These numbers should shock you – as a father of a son with multiple disabilities frankly they scare me. There’s a glimmer of hope because the study also found “Employed persons with a disability were more likely to be self-employed than those with no disability.” To me this means if we want our friends/family members to increase their odds of successfully entering the work force we need to be looking for gaps they can fill.
Some of the more common areas are landscaping and food service, but as technology advances I believe more and more opportunities will present themselves – if we think outside the box. Manufacturing could be done in your basement with a 3D printer, after finding a niche market too small for big brand companies to go after. Or, perhaps you could establish yourself as a tutor or online language instructor (teaching people your native language).
I have faith companies will become more comfortable hiring individuals with disabilities, but it’s going to take time. It’s also going to require those in position to hire to get away from cookie cutter solutions – not every hole will be filled by the perfect square or round peg. Most of us are making accommodations of some kind when we hire now, it’s rare to find the “perfect fit”. So rather than letting the disability be the focus of your attention, look for what they CAN do.
How? How do I suggest people do this? First, by spending more time around people who have differing abilities. Stories like Kayla’s help, but we have a LONG way to go until it stops feeling like a novelty and more like “of course we hired so and so, why wouldn’t we?” Families and friends – highlight what individuals are doing, without qualification (such as “despite their disability” or something similar). Most people want to work, and have skills they bring to the table. Making accommodations should not be confused with making work. Look at what your company needs, and get creative about how those needs may be met.