Issue: October 2008
In This Issue:
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. A disability, under Federal disability discrimination law, is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of a person's major life activities, like speaking, breathing or learning. Disabilities can be with someone for a lifetime or can happen suddenly later in life, either through an accident or an illness.
As companies work to become more diverse and inclusive of all kinds of workers, a disabled employee is more often seen as differently abled—and for good reason. He or she may use their eyes, ears or legs differently than most, but reasoning, intelligence, problem-solving and all those valuable workplace skills are just as sharp, if not sharper.
DiversityInc., an online and print publication dedicated to the diversity market, says that people with disabilities make up a $1 trillion market. More than one in five Americans, about 54 million, have a disability. And, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 11.8 million people with reported disabilities in the workforce. Chances are, they will be your coworkers someday. So, DiversityInc. suggests the following advice to improve your communication with a differently abled coworker:
Diversity and inclusion, the lingo for making sure that all genders, races, nationalities and religions are embraced inside the workplace, is a hot topic these days. Companies have discovered that people who are “different” in some way, whether it's through the languages they speak, the foods they eat or the clothes they wear, can bring innovative and interesting ideas to the table and help companies to do well. This, of course, includes people with disabilities. Douglas Kruse, a professor at Rutgers University's School of Management and Labor Relations who has been in a wheelchair since being hit by a drunk driver in 1990, says, “People with disabilities have to be creative and innovative just to get through a regular day. Studies have shown that the benefits of hiring a handicapped person often far outweigh any associated cost.”
Deborah Dagit, chief diversity officer of Merck & Co, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical firms headquartered in Whitehouse Station, says companies are working hard to make sure that all employees have an equal voice at the table.
Here's how Dagit (also a mom of three teens) explains what it means to be inclusive in today's workplace:
“The lionshare of things that happen [in the workplace] are not off-color jokes, name-calling or bullying. The lionshare of problematic things that happen are favoritism or behavior that is blocking someone out of the conversation and not being inclusive. It's not like every day in every way you make everyone feel good about their interaction. But it is really important if there's a pattern in terms of how people are treated, whether it's eye-rolling or dismissive behavior or tone of voice. Research at MIT has shown that this has a very corrosive effect on productivity, engagement and retention. The business can't tolerate having a situation where behavior results in lower productivity and people not wanting to give 100 percent because of how they are treated. It's great that we've been able to move beyond the obvious to the subtle, yet powerful ways that people treat each other.”
Students with disabilities who choose to go on to college in New Jersey can tap technology to help them navigate the academic demands of higher ed. The Adaptive Technology Center for New Jersey Colleges, based at The College of New Jersey in Ewing, has an extensive inventory of equipment that it can lend to auditorily impaired, visually impaired and learning disabled students, such as devices that convert electronic text into audio format. Eight regional technology centers are located around the state, at such locations as Cumberland County College, Fairleigh Dickinson University and Bergen County Community College, that are specially equipped to help students with disabilities.
The Adaptive Technology Center stresses the importance of assistive tech tools to ease the transition from high school to college. “Entering college is an exciting time for many high school students, but it can also be overwhelming with the increased academic demands of higher education,” writes the staff. “College courses require significant amounts of reading, writing, research, gathering and organizing information, and expressing ideas clearly. The right technology can help students complete these tasks successfully.”
The center offers the following resources for students with disabilities:
We've talked a lot about working WITH a disability. What happens when a disability prevents you from working? An illness or accident that leaves you disabled, even temporarily, can also leave you without a paycheck. Here are three things that the experts (like insurance companies State Farm and Allstate) want you to consider about disability insurance: