The Valued Employees You're Missing: People With Disabilities

In the disability community, John Kemp, executive director of the US Business Leadership Network (USBLN), is in the minority. He started life with his disabilitywhich he manages now with two prosthetic arms and two prosthetic legsbut just 17 percent of people with disabilities are born with their disabilities. The other 83 percent acquired a disability along life’s path. That, Kemp explained to DiversityInc’s audience of chief diversity officers and executives at our two-day diversity event in Washington, D.C., is why most people with disabilities do not identify with the disability community.

“Why do we have to make a business case that we belong” Kemp asked. “Our employees should look like our customers, like our suppliers, like our shareholders.”

To attend DiversityInc’s March 23 event, featuring New York Times Columnist Frank Rich, Ernst & Young Chairman and CEO Jim Turley and others, click here.

In October, the percentage of people with disabilities in the labor force was about 21 percent. That percentage hasn’t changed since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. Many workers with disabilitiesparticularly disabilities that are not easily seendo not disclose their disability to employers or coworkers. Kemp said that this “hiding” takes considerable effort and, thus, hurts productivity. “We have a long way to go to create safe environments for employees with disabilities.”

The good news is that progress is possible. Kemp recommended that employers emulate children in being open. “Children confront us; adults avoid us,” he said. “Children are the ones doing it right. They ask, ‘Can you drive’ ‘Can you play basketball’ ‘Can you hold this’ That’s OK. It’s the separation, distance and avoidance that cause problems.”

Employers should also avoid making assumptions about a person’s abilities. “People who aren’t disabled, when confronting disabilities, think it’s worse than it actually is. ‘I don’t think this person can do the job,'” Kemp said. “Ask and let the person tell you what he or she can or cannot do.”

Finally, positive psychology and identifying with the core values of the disability movementincluding heightened acceptance of differences, interdependence, humor and future orientationcan help bridge those gaps. There has been some progress as younger workers with disabilities are more willing to disclose their status and ask for what they need to be productive, but the problem isn’t solved, Kemp said. “We’ve got a long way to go and it will take a long time.”

Latest News

6 Ways DEI Continues to Shape and Evolve America’s Retail Sector

From increased innovation and profits to a better overall customer experience, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs can have a beneficial impact on retail businesses. But disparities in upper management, along with underlying racism that still exists in some store locations, show those efforts still have a long way to…

Hispanic Federation and Comcast NBCUniversal Partner to Advance Digital Equity Among Latino Communities

Originally published at Comcast NBCUniversal ranked No. 7 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2022.   The Hispanic Federation (HF), in partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal Telemundo, announced the launch of the Latino Digital Equity Centers Initiative to strengthen workforce development and digital training programs in the…

5 Biggest News Stories of the Week: May 19

As the saying goes, the news never stops — but there’s a lot of it out there, and all of it doesn’t always pertain to our readers. In this weekly news roundup, we’ll cover the top news stories that matter most to our diversity focused audience. 1. Emergency Services Dispatcher…