In doing some on line research and review of initiatives aimed at this seemingly endless effort to bring employment figures among persons with disabilities closer to those of the general population, I found myself reading an expansive report out of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions – HELP – committee of the US Senate published in June, 2012. The report suggests a number of strategic initiatives for strengthening employment among PWD.
Unfinished Business: Making Employment of People with Disabilities a National Priority
An impressive title for a report to be sure. However, with our abysmal track record post-ADA of making a dent in the unimpressive labor force participation and employment figures among working-age PWD, this report published in July, 2012 and led by Senator Tom Harkin of IA would be just that…an impressive title. Since this report and, more importantly, the push for strategic efforts to improve employment opportunities in all segments of the disability population is led by this 40-year, staunch advocate for PWD, I am encouraged. The report calls out the historic inequalities between the general population of working-age and PWD of working-age. Framing the report in the context of the ongoing recession that began in 2008, it notes a sad and stark contrast between unemployment among these two groups. Specifically, the report contends that PWD of working-age have suffered far greater fallout than the general population during the recession, dropping out of the labor force at a rate five times higher than the general population. This is a daunting statistic applied to a segment of the labor force that participates at a far lower rate than the general population even in periods of full employment.
On a more positive note, the Harkin HELP report calls attention to successful efforts throughout the country to impact the employment figures among PWD. These represent many collaborative marriages – between government agencies, state and federal initiatives, public-private partnerships and others. All share a common characteristic – they aren’t depending on old models that have failed to impact employment. Rather, they are striking out, taking risks, asking critical questions of all of the affected parties to this issue, and executing exciting, real and impactful employment programs. This willingness of Senator Harkin and the committee to recognize that the status quo won’t change unless we change it, as well as reaching out to all corners of the nation for input and successful programs, is – as I noted earlier – encouraging.
Collaboration - Key to Success in 2014!
At nAblement we have always been a collaborative partner. We continue to work with like-minded organizations like Abilitylinks, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC), Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and JVS Chicago among others to identify quality candidates for the technology industry, deliver co-branded programs to strengthen candidates’ preparation for a career, and support the business community in their ongoing efforts to move cultures toward greater inclusion of PWD. We work with leading researchers like Fong Chan, Professor and Clinical Director of the Rehabilitation Psychology Department and Co-Director of the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center at the University of Wisconsin – Madison to strengthen both candidates and employers capacity to effect change. We work with educational and training partner Inquest Consulting to create and deliver valuable, business-centric and actionable knowledge to hiring managers and executives throughout leading corporations. Our professional growth and networking group – ITKAN – meets monthly at the Microsoft Technology Center Chicago with the support of its former Director, Adam Hecktman, now Director of Technology and Civic Engagement, to offer leading edge knowledge transfer in the rapidly shifting technology sector. ITKAN is celebrating its 6th anniversary of providing an informal, engaging, supportive, and hands-on environment for anyone who is passionate about technology and knowledge.
Thanks to Senator Harkin and all of the members of the senate associated with making the hiring and success of qualified candidates with disabilities a national priority. Those of us who have been engaged in this mission will continue to do our part to assure that it moves from a report strategy to a national reality.