Guest contributor: Tonya Deniz
Today’s organizations are going through significant strategic and cultural changes. As a result they require employees with more and different skills and competencies. There is a labor pool, currently untapped, that offers HR practitioners a solution to the short-term paradigm shifts. This labor pool also provides a resolve to the long-term challenges associated with talent shortages and a changing workforce that has become even more complex, fast-paced, global and competitive. Lastly this low hanging fruit of talent has a far greater tolerance of people and situations like no other group preceding them. In these turbulent and unpredictable times, skilled, tolerant employees are a true asset to any organization and should be sought after by companies as part of their recruitment efforts.
IDEA AND ADA
Instituted in 1975 and later renamed in 1990 as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), this law mandates federally funded schools in the US provide children with disabilities a free education. The law requires this be done in the least restrictive environment to encourage each child the ability to reach his or her fullest potential. Prior to IDEA public schools could deny an education to children with disabilities. Sadly some 4 million children with disabilities who attended school during this period were “warehoused” in segregated facilities and received little or no effective instruction. Over the years IDEA has been amended. In the mid 90’s Inclusion, the practice wherein students with special educational needs spend most or all of their time with non-disabled students, was instituted in many schools across the country.
Unlike other educational approaches that tended to be:
1) concerned principally with disability and ‘special educational needs’ and;
2) implied learners changing or becoming ‘ready for’ accommodation by the mainstream
Inclusion is about the child’s right to participate and the school’s duty to accept the child. Inclusion rejects the use of special schools or classrooms to separate students with disabilities from students without disabilities. A premium is placed upon full participation by students with disabilities and upon respect for their social, civil, and educational rights.
The passing of the ADA (American Disabilities Act) in 1990 further propelled IDEA and the Inclusion model. The ADA allowed for more exposure and advocacy for both the rights and dignity of all persons living with disabilities, including children. This law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and guarantees persons with disabilities the same equalities as all Americans, when it comes to education, employment, housing, transportation, public accommodations, communication, recreation, health services, voting, and access to public services.
Inclusion Breeds Tolerance
The most notable impact from the passing of both pieces of legislation is greater tolerance of people with disabilities. For the past two decades, children with and without disabilities, along with their parents, have literally “learned together.” Specifically implementation of Inclusion in schools has contributed to people becoming more tolerant of one another. Some research studies show that Inclusion helps students understand the importance of working together, and it fosters learning, a sense of tolerance and empathy among all those involved.
Thirty-five and 20 years following the passing of IDEA and the ADA, respectively, we are seeing a growing generation (late Gen Xers and Millennials) of tolerant graduates who naturally expect persons with disabilities to be included in the workforce. However, inclusion of persons with disabilities in the workplace has lagged inclusion of students in the classroom. Many companies have not embraced the concept of including people with disabilities in recruitment and diversity efforts The term “diversity” which typically refers to women, people of color, sexual orientation and religion, usually excludes people with disabilities, parents of children with special needs and caregivers of people with disabilities.
There is a lack of education and in some cases fear about people with disabilities by some workforce generations (Silents and Boomers). For many belonging to these generations, there is a stigma associated to disabilities. This has been shaped, in part, by old superstitions, myths and stereotypes about the disability segment. Unfortunately the issue of disabilities in many companies is relegated to human resources and even there, there is some trepidation about the hiring of people with disabilities. Ironically most workers with disabilities go unnoticed by employers. As their disability is not visible, they opt not to self disclose. Among those with more visible disabilities, they typically require little to no accommodations to the work environment in order to perform their duties. For workers requiring accommodations, the average cost is $500.
Given the surging number of skilled and capable graduates with disabilities and their able-bodied counterparts, together with the long-term challenges organizations are facing involving talent shortages and more tolerant individuals, the time is ripe for an inclusion ethos in the workplace. This ethos needs to recognize the value to the worker of being included in the workplace, rather than being warehoused and on public assistance. The ethos also needs to acknowledge the unusual work skills, as well as the all-too-often, greater work dedication, employees with disabilities bring to the workplace.
About Tonya Deniz
A 25-year veteran in business strategy, global branding, research, design and consumer insights, Tonya Deniz is the CEO and founder of Deniz Consultancy, LLC. She is well connected to corporations, disability advocates, accessibility companies, as well as academics, specializing in disability, universal/accessible design and media. Tonya understands first-hand the challenges that individuals with disabilities face as she is legally blind and the mother of an adult child with special needs.