Employ-Ability: What we can look for in the future of work
Employ-Ability: What we can look for in the
future of work
The worldwide recession has made traditionally “reliable” forecasting models of improvement in
job creation next to impossible to gauge accurately. This seems especially true for adults with
hidden disabilities as they seek access to employment opportunities with little public or private
recognition of their aspirations and barriers to achieving a livable wage.
In looking for data from governmental or private sector publications on the future of workplace
prospects for people with disabilities, there have been few resources or reports that break down
employment/unemployment for people with high incidence disabilities such LD, ADHD,
Asperger’s, or mood disorders.
There is a nascent body of research, governmental reports, and studies that indicate emerging
trend lines which will impact adults with hidden disabilities access and participation in labor
markets across the US and around the world. A cross section of this information is shared within
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is completing a review and inviting
public comment concerning revised regulations for employers to determine who is disabled and
what constitutes a substantial limitation to an employee that requires a reasonable
accommodation. People with hidden disabilities such as ADHD, Asperger’s and mood disorders
are in line for Tier I status as having severe disabilities, that would enable a relatively easier case
for job modification.
As of this moment, adult workers with learning disabilities are being considered for a Tier II
status. This means that consideration for workplace modifications or accommodations will
require a higher bar with more steps to substantiate a substantial limitation due to this particular
disability. Passing these regulations as proposed will create an additional hardship for
un/underemployed adults with diagnosed learning disabilities who will not be a top priority in
future employment initiatives- whether public or privately funded.
What is not clear and should really drive public commentary to the EEOC is the fact that the
above-mentioned Tier I conditions quiet frequently co-occur with some manifestation of learning
disabilities. How does an employee with workplace performance problems discern what aspect
of the job is due to ADHD or LD? Many adults with these conditions have historically been
reluctant to disclose or even know how to disclose (Gerber & Price, 2009) .
Human Resource personnel and company management will be caught up in these determinations,
and are not prepared to make judgment calls with any reliability. Neil Romano, formerly of the
Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) shares that current governmental and private
sector efforts must understand business better and connecting the dots between our goals and
their needs. Businesses approach to disability employment tends to be one step at a time, rather
than a systemic integrated process and approach (hiring, awareness, etc.) Imagine what would
happen if this approach was used on women? If you recruit, how can you not train? If you train,
how can you not have a career ladder in place? Business is not using its own fundamental
processes in place for other minorities.
Romano’s contention is that business doesn’t understand how to integrate adults with disabilities
into the workforce. This is because even if the corporate sector is well intended, they tend to
have a blind spot. Businesses are still using a legacy model- they think of PwD based on old
concepts, images and ideas (stereotypes, expenses, poor people, sick, etc). Most employers do
not understand why they need and should market to the disability community to recruit for
openings. Governmental and social service sector entities have not helped the corporate
community see the “disability dividend”- that serving and hiring PwD makes money for the
business through integrated processes in all segments of the business.
This seems to be the reality based on a cross-section of statistics collected by the Bureau of
Labor Statistics which shows that since October 2008 (when they began to collect employment
data on PwD) the already high unemployment rate of working age people 16-64 reported as
disabled has seen disproportionate growth compared to those reporting as non-disabled, where it
is approaching 80% of this segment as not being in the workforce.
There are no current proposals within the Obama administration that target PwD specifically for
workforce development either in system change grants or RFP’s for local vendor/replicable
models. The US Business Leadership Network (USBLN) has been active in many parts of the
country working with employers to address making the hiring, training, and promotion case for
PwD a no brainer.
There seems to be a natural opening between businesses needs and government for creative
common sense initiatives that will benefit all parties. With seed monies from the government-
based on compatible performance criteria- collaboration and joint development agreements
between the public and private sectors can begin to address the un/underemployment of adults
with hidden disabilities.
The US Small Business Administration (SBA), has recently included people with disabilities into
a category of applying as a minority-owned business. Just in the last month, financial institutions
have shown an interest in approving blended funding between local banks, the SBA, and
personal loan guarantees of the disability/minority-owned loan applicants to start, expand, or
recapitalize an existing business.
The US BLN will also begin to certify disability-owned business to be able to work under the
federal procurement system in contracting/sub-contracting with federal agencies. This has huge
potential for the disability community, our country, and business on general. Globally, there are
some efforts along these lines that hold some promise of improving the status quo.
The US became a signatory of the UN Human Rights Convention for the Disabled at the
beginning of 2009. Among work-oriented aspects of this document, the signing governments
promise to promote and include disability-minority owned businesses in their supply chains, set
an example of hiring PwD into government/private sector positions, have barrier-free access, etc.
An area of concern is to make sure employer’s do not hear “accommodation” as a message that
means “ I am forced to by law” rather than an employee that just wants to be treated fairly.
The global view of disability and employment tends to be one of “best practices” as being better
than “compliance.” Diversity and Inclusion is promoted as business improvement rather than a
cost or expense to business. The Disability Standard as part of a UK effort to help employers
become “Disability Confident” published an employer management tool that enables
organizations to accurately measure performance on disability, in every way it affects their
business, and put in place action plans that deliver real business improvement. This view allows
for a hiring case that shifts away from issues of dealing with stigma of quotas and making a
positive case for hiring through looking pragmatically at “reasonable adjustments” to the
workplace that benefit all workers, not just those with a disability.
Kareem Dale, White House disability policy advisor for President Obama, sets the tone for
change by noting that “An issue for advancement is the employer’s mentality of not being
comfortable or wondering if that person with disability can do the job or- if up for a promotion-
how have they been able to do the job? They would rather promote or go to a person without a
disability and we get lost in the shuffle. PwD are capable and want to be employed. They want to
be contributing members of society. Lack of health care, contributes to high levels of
unemployment- wage conflicts make one reliant on retaining SSI or if you make minimum wage,
you lose benefits and have problems getting coverage from private insurers.”
Across the rest of the developed and emerging world, we still see under and unemployment rates
that are at least 75% or higher. No matter what terminology one wishes to use, these rates are not
sustainable and need a radical re-alignment of national funding & service priorities. It will take
more than just getting a job, it is about retaining it, making sure there is growth where one can
excel and prosper. It is nothing less than equal access to the world of work and quality of life.