by Peter Altschul
(Editor’s Note: This article is part of Peter Altschul’s new book, “Breaking It Down and Connecting the Dots: Creating Common Ground Where Contention Rules.” The book is available through Bookshare and Learning Ally; it will be available on BARD later this year.)
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and Blindness Awareness Month. Yawn.
Yet the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is still somewhere between 60 and 70 percent ... or two to three times higher than our non-disabled peers.
Change is rippling across the workplace. Contract or gig work is replacing full-time jobs with benefits. Many middle managers are disappearing, with more work done away from the office. Employers are more committed to diversity due to demographic shifts and research showing how it can strengthen the bottom line. Technology is disrupting the way products and services are made and sold, with future job growth falling into two broad categories: high-tech — creating, debugging, protecting, selling, and servicing technology and its networks; and high-touch —assisting people to use this technology to meet their needs.
These changes can benefit job seekers with disabilities. Working from home might assist managers and customers to focus on our skills instead of being emotionally disabled by our disabilities while saving us from the wear and tear of the daily commute. An increased focus on diversity’s benefits might influence employers to adjust attitudes and be more flexible in providing adjustments to meet our needs.
But those of us assisting people with disabilities to find work must think and act in new ways. Sure, literacy skills, technological adeptness, mobility competence, and emotional intelligence are still important. But in this gig economy, we need to encourage a more entrepreneurial spirit, assisting potential workers to explore how best to use, build on, and sell their strengths in an increasingly fragmented and global marketplace.
Other challenges abound. During the past several years, technology platforms with names such as Yammer, Slack, TaskRabbit, MeetX, VirtualBoardroom, Diligent, BoardPad, and Etsy have been created to support people to work together while apart, connect those seeking work with opportunities, and provide just-in-time training.
Which of these platforms has been most successful in the marketplace, and how accessible are they to the technology that we currently use? Better yet, which of these products has followed the path of Apple by embedding accessibility into their design? How can we best encourage those who create these platforms to be more user-friendly to those with disabilities while benefitting their other customers? Let’s encourage those who work with us by buying and promoting their products!
Let’s also explore how other coalitions are preparing people from other under-represented groups to compete in this new environment. Let’s form alliances with businesses to prepare people with disabilities to meet their needs. Let’s work with officials from federal, state, and local governments to tailor Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs to this new world, working with others when appropriate. Let’s think about a basic income for everyone and portable healthcare, ideas with some support among conservative and progressive policy wonks.
Next October, we will again be bombarded with activities related to National Disability Employment Awareness Month and Blindness Awareness Month. Instead of yawning, how might we use this platform to communicate our dreams, goals, and accomplishments related to the rapidly evolving workplace?
Let’s get to work!