Written By Teresa Thomas, Program Lead, Neurodiverse Talent Enablement at MITRE
Every Summer in the United States, Disability Pride Month marks the passing of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in July 1990. The month celebrates people with disabilities (PWD), their identities and culture, and their contributions to society. It also seeks to change the way people think about and define disability, end the stigma of disability, and promote the belief that disability is a natural part of human diversity in which people living with disabilities can celebrate and take pride.
Why is this so important? According to the CDC, 1 in 4 adults in the US has some type of disability, and the unemployment rate for persons with a disability is almost double that of those without a disability. This percentage includes folks who struggle with mobility, cognition, independent living, hearing, vision, and self-care, among other issues. The ADA ensures that 25% of our population will have access to employment, transportation, medical care, and public buildings.
While the ADA creates compelling legal reasons for employers to make disability accommodations, and the moral imperative is obvious, sheer numbers should also prove motivating. Overlooking 25% of potential job applicants, current employees, or future customers is simply impractical.
How can organizations become more accessible? The first step is to pay attention; some of the most effective changes can be quite simple. Do your online meetings have built-in closed captioning turned on? How about the televisions in your lobby? Are your documents and online resources accessible to screen readers? Are conference rooms arranged so that a wheelchair or someone on crutches can easily navigate through them? All of those simple (and free) changes benefit everyone, as do many changes originally made to help PWDs. Elevators, curb cut-outs, and larger fonts on documents are all great examples of Universal Design, which is the next step in becoming more accessible. We must think universally when making changes to accommodate one person or group, and many good resources online exist to help you understand and apply best practices.
What else can you do? There are many resources available at low or no cost. One of the best and easiest-to-access resources is a set of websites designed for both employers and employees: askEARN.org and askJAN.org both provide good information and a searchable database of accommodation recommendations. Both sites also provide access to advisors who can help guide inquirers through their questions and point them toward solutions. There are also other nationally available resources like those initiated by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and the Workforce Recruitment Program.
Because resources vary by state, another good resource is local Vocational Rehabilitation and social service providers through work readiness programs. Some states, like California, even provide salary funding for interns with disabilities.
Celebrate Disability Pride with us by exploring these resources and more.
The National Academy of Public Administration appreciates MITRE’s ongoing efforts to support the neurodiverse workforce. The Academy continues to promote accessibility across public administration and public service.