In a speech Wednesday Hillary Clinton focused on one group of Americans that has not received too much attention during this election year: people with disabilities.
Clinton called the people with disabilities community “a group of Americans who are, too often, invisible, overlooked and undervalued — who have so much to offer but are given far too few chances to prove it.”
This is the first time a candidate has dedicated a whole campaign event to people with disabilities, a segment of the population that is becoming increasingly more crucial to the workforce, Carol Glazer, president of the National Organization on Disability (NOD), shared with DiversityInc.
“This is not just a matter of equal opportunity or social justice. This is a business imperative,” she said, adding, “This is not a group of people who deserve to be employed; this is a group of people who have much to contribute to the workforce of the future.”
Clinton said she would also eliminate the subminimum wage implemented at “sheltered workshops,” calling it “a vestige from an ugly, ignorant past.”
“People with disabilities shouldn’t be isolated,” she said. “They should be given the chance to work with everyone else.”
For the past 70 years, many large companies within the United States have instituted programs known as “sheltered workshops” for employees with disabilities. In 1938, a federal law was passed that allowed employers to pay employees with disabilities less than minimum wage. In some cases, people with disabilities make as little as 20 cents an hour. The wealth gap paints a picture of inequality as well: according to the U.S. Census, 28.5 percent of people with a disability live below poverty — compared to 11.1 percent of people without a disability and 12.4 percent of the general population aged 18 to 64.
Clinton publicly spoke out against the subminimum wage in the past as well, saying in March that people with disabilities should be entitled to the same minimum wage as able-bodied workers.
“Men and women, boys and girls, who have talents, skills, ideas and dreams for themselves and their families, just like anybody else,” Clinton said on Wednesday. “Whether they can participate in our economy and lead rich, full lives that are as healthy and productive as possible is a reflection on us as a country. And right now, in too many ways, we are falling short.”
Clinton knows firsthand how valuable people with disabilities can be in the workplace and said on Wednesday that she has several employees with disabilities on her own campaign staff.
“We’ve got to build an inclusive economy that welcomes people with disabilities, values their work, treats them with respect,” Clinton said. “One advocate after another has told me the same thing: We don’t want pity. We want paychecks. We want the chance to contribute.”
“Together we will make our economy and our country more welcoming to people with disabilities because we all win when everyone gets to share in the American dream,” she added.
Indeed, being seen and valued as equal members of society is vital to drive business, Glazer said.
“In the race for talent as boomers retire and industry will need millions of new workers in the coming years, this a group of people who have spent their lives navigating a world that wasn’t built for them,” she said.
NOD has worked for years to help companies on their journey toward disability and inclusion. NOD’s Disability Employment Tracker is a free online confidential self-assessment that helps a company understand where it stands and how it can “proceed to build a highly productive and talented workforce including people with disabilities”
“Because this is a group of people who have not been in the workforce, just like women and minorities in past years, business is going to need help finding talented workers, accommodating them, training them, figuring out how best to support them,” Glazer explained. “They need tools, and they need support from experienced disabilities organizations who understands business’ labor force needs. NOD has been around for almost 35 years, addressing every aspect of disability, including in the workforce.”
The often overlooked community of people with disabilities make up a large amount of the eligible voting population. According to a report from the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, around 35.4 million people with disabilities will be eligible to vote this upcoming election — compared to 28.7 million Blacks and 29.5 million Latinos. And people with disabilities are expected to go out to the polls at a 7 percent higher rate than in the 2012 election, representing one sixth of the entire voting population.
“This is an absolutely historic campaign in that it’s the first time in American history where voters with disabilities will literally make the difference between who wins and loses in this campaign,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility, a nonprofit advocacy group for people with disabilities.
Clinton has long been committed to helping people with disabilities. She contributed to “Children Out of School in America,” a 1974 study by the Children’s Defense Fund that analyzed why so many children do not attend school.
“I discovered that many parents were not sending children to school because schools did not accommodate disabilities,” she recalled in January to RespectAbility.
“Disability rights are civil rights,” Clinton said. “They are human rights. They are American rights. And as long as I am in office, I will fight to ensure that these rights remain visible and at the forefront of our economy, our system of healthcare, our policy abroad, and our education and employment opportunities at home.”