The Disability Community’s Powerful Potential
Career Development Employment and political participation are two strong sources of empowerment for people with disabilities, and access often means independence and self-determination.
The future of disability empowerment is one where people with disabilities are equally employed and supported alongside their co-workers without disabilities to contribute fully in the workplace. It is one where we have achieved political power through representative representation and the recognition of our community’s political interests.
There are many people and organizations acting as conveners, connectors and catalysts for change. Together with partners inside and outside the disability community we are increasing the political and economic power of disabled individuals by driving social and structural changes in employment and politics that decrease discrimination and increase access. But we still have a long way to go.
Structurally, people with disabilities continue to face barriers ranging from physical access to offices and polling places to policies that legalize a sub-minimum wage. Socially, the primary obstacles are the assumptions and misconceptions about whether people with disabilities can contribute fully in the workplace or cast a ballot as an informed voter.
“According to USA Today, there are approximately 35.4 million eligible voters with disabilities, which outnumbers many of the larger minority demographics.”
The process to achieve gainful employment begins before an individual ever steps into the workplace. For students with disabilities, the participation in meaningful internship experiences and mentoring lead to successful employment outcomes. Connecting students with disabilities to high-level internships not only benefits the student with valuable experience, but also impacts the host employer by demonstrating to them that a person with a disability can perform just as well, if not better, than their non-disabled colleagues. Mentors provide students with disabilities guidance on their career aspirations and are an example of success.
Full political participation for Americans with disabilities is a top priority—to achieve it, we must build state and national coalitions to engage in effective, non-partisan campaigns to eliminate barriers to voting; promote accessibility of voting technology and polling places; educate voters about issues and candidates; promote turnout of voters with disabilities across the country; engage candidates and the media on disability issues; and protect eligible voters’ right to participate in elections. A major focus in today’s efforts is to increase the political power of the disability community while also engaging candidates and the media on disability issues.
This year, according to USA Today, there are approximately 35.4 million eligible voters with disabilities, which outnumbers many of the larger minority demographics. The disability community can be a powerful political force, and the community and its allies are make powerful changes.
Disability in the Workplace
We sat with Kristopher Corso, Director of Operations, MA, disABLEDperson, Inc. to further discuss disability in the workplace and empowering individuals with disability to their full potential.
What do you think are the greatest barriers for individuals with disabilities that have still yet to be broken?
Some of the greatest barriers for individuals with disabilities that still are yet to be broken include: accessibility, educational opportunities and culture within organizations.
Accessibility is a barrier for individuals with disabilities, because even though devices are available to the individual, when an individual goes from one site to a company career site, is that site accessible? If that site or application process is not accessible, this becomes a barrier.
Educational opportunities are a barrier because of affordability. Jobs continue to grow in specific areas that require specialized training or education; but education is expensive and becomes a barrier to affordability.
Culture within organizations is a barrier because not everyone understands disability. Organizations need to promote inclusive work environments, with education around accommodations and willingness to hire individuals with disabilities and move past stigma.
Personally, what has been your greatest accomplishment in helping individuals with disabilities reach their full potential?
Personally, I want to continue to work to create innovative technologies, systems and procedures to connect individuals who have great abilities with employers who are looking for qualified candidates. Each individual should have opportunities to be hired, and so my goal is to continue to work to remove barriers that may keep individuals from opportunities.
My greatest accomplishment is when I hear that an individual with a disability was employed.
What new innovations made for individuals with disabilities do you see making the biggest impact in the future?
The key to this question is being able to understand what a business’ needs are, and what the needs of individuals with disabilities are. Innovations that keep accessibility in mind, while understanding how to work efficiently with business and connect the dots will make the most impact in the future.
Businesses may or may not be educated on disability employment, and ultimately need a place where they can get support in their process of hiring individuals who may need an accommodation. Innovations that will make the biggest impact will be those that use technology that connects a decentralized group of individuals to a centralized company, while offering support to the organization around the topics of recruiting and hiring individuals with disabilities.
I believe innovations in accessible platforms will continue to make an impact in the future.
What is one tip you can offer to protect the average person's with a disability regarding their future?
Businesses are looking to hire individuals with disabilities. With that, each business is looking to hire “qualified” individuals with disabilities who have the skill set and work experience they are looking to hire for.
My tip would be to keep working hard, keep participating in the change that continues to take place. Be available for employers who are working to create more opportunities, and look at ways to take advantage of educational opportunities. Many businesses are looking at ways to increase the hiring of diverse candidates, continue to support the process as more and more businesses work to create more opportunities.