A Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce: What Can YOU Do?

Filed in Disabilities by on May 17, 2012 5 Comments

I believe that inclusion leads to innovation, and that by fostering a work culture respectful of individual differences—including disabilities—organizations benefit from varied perspectives on how to confront challenges and achieve success.  And I know I’m not alone in this belief, because many of today’s most successful companies proudly deem inclusion to be a core corporate value.  They’re stronger for it.

That’s why, I particularly like this year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) themeA Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce:  What Can YOU Do?  This theme, announced last week to help organizations plan in advance for NDEAM in October, truly encapsulates what most highly regarded business leaders have long known—diverse organizations have a strategic advantage over homogenous ones. 

Speaking at the National Diversity Forum held last August as part of the Office of Disability Employment Policy’s Add Us In initiative, Eric Peterson, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at the Society for Human Resource Management, illustrated this principle very clearly.  He said that if ten people are sitting around a conference table trying to solve a difficult problem, and all of those people look the same, act the same and have the same basic educational and career background, each will probably have the same idea for a solution—one that any of them could have figured out on their own.  Maybe it would be the right solution, maybe not.  Now, if those 10 people each brought to that table differing experiences and circumstances, they’ll likely arrive at a solution that not one of them could have determined individually.  And more often than not, that solution would be stronger.

Disability is an essential perspective to have at that table.  Put simply, America’s economic success requires us to capitalize on the talents of all segments of the population, and the responsibility for making that happen must be shared.  There is something everyone CAN do.

Employers can foster workplaces welcoming to all qualified employees and potential employees.  People with disabilities can understand the intrinsic value of work and their role in our economic success.  Youth with disabilities can grow up with the expectation of employment, and parents, educators and other adults can strengthen this expectation by cultivating a clear vision of work and community participation.

As the leader of an organization, I’ll always choose the solution that represents an amalgam of opinions and insights rather than the one that approaches the problem from only one angle.  That’s because an inclusive workforce is a stronger workforce. And it is an essential step toward a stronger, better America, one where every person is recognized for his or her accomplishments—that should be our goal every day of every month. 

Kathy Martinez is Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy.

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Comments (5)

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  1. Donna Martinez says:

    And apparently the US District Court in Oregon is in agreement!
    From NDRN: Breaking News

    Yesterday, the U.S. District Court in Oregon issued a 16-page Opinion and Order
    in the case Lane v. Kiltzhaber, 3:12-cv-00138-ST. The Lane complaint claims that
    failure to provide supported employment services violates Title II of the ADA
    and the integration mandate. The Court granted the state defendants’ motion to
    dismiss the complaint, but without prejudice and with leave to amend, while
    directing the Plaintiffs how to correct the wording of the complaint. Most
    importantly, the Court determined that the plaintiffs have valid cognizable
    claims under Title II of the ADA and that the integration mandate applies to the
    provision of employment-related services.

    This case was filed by Disability Rights Oregon and co-counsels Center for
    Public Representation, Perkins Coie LLP and Miller Nash LLP, on behalf of eight
    individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities who are able and
    would prefer to work in an integrated employment setting, but instead are
    segregated in sheltered workshops.

    Recognizing that this is a case of first impression, the Court noted “no other
    case has applied the integration mandate in a context other than one in which
    the state’s action places plaintiffs at risk of institutionalization. However,
    the dearth of authority does not led inexorably to the conclusion that the
    integration mandate is inapplicable to plaintiffs’ claims. To the contrary, the
    broad language and remedial purposes of the ADA, the corresponding lack of any
    limiting language in either the ADA or the integration mandate itself, and the
    lack of any case law restricting the reach of the integration mandate suggests
    just the opposition conclusion.” (Opinion at 10-11). In reaching this
    conclusion, the Court carefully scrutinized the defendants’ arguments for
    dismissal, and gave deference to the U.S. Department of Justice’s interpretation
    of the integration mandate which prohibits the unnecessary provision of services
    in non-integrated settings, including segregated sheltered workshops. (Opinion
    at 7-9).

    The Court distinguished claims for a “discriminatory denial of services” versus
    claims for “providing inadequate services,” holding that “a claim survives only
    if it truly alleges a ‘discriminatory denial of services’ and must be dismissed
    if it instead concerns the ‘adequacy’ of the services provided.” (Opinion at
    13-16). Noting that the plaintiffs clarified at oral argument that they are
    seeking the “provision of employment services that would allow them the
    opportunity to work in an integrated setting,” and seek to have defendants
    “reallocate their available resources in a way that does not unjustifiably favor
    segregated employment,” the court determined that some of the allegations in the
    complaint “go beyond the clarification offered” at the hearing” and identified
    specific claims subject to amendment. (Opinion at 14-15). Plaintiffs have been
    given leave to amend their complaint by May 29, “to clarify that the defendants
    are violating Title II of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act by denying
    employment services to plaintiffs for which they are eligible with the result of
    unnecessarily segregating them in sheltered workshops.” (Opinion at 16).

  2. Greg Jenkins says:

    Great article! The inclusion of diverse perspectives, backgrounds, experiences and attributes increases the scope of possibilities for any challenge. Inclusive leaders know this, they seek out the value and potential in all people.

  3. Jasmine Filipovski says:

    Speaking as a disabled individual, I believe education is the key to hiring the disabled on all sides of the spectrum. Educating employers as well as employees is the main key in successfully hiring the disabled in the workforce. Will this ever be achieved? May be and may be not. This all depends on how willing society is in accepting the disabled on a whole. Society on a whole needs to be clearly educated of the fact that there are different variations of disabilities slight to severe. Once this is realized and accepted, then may be the disabled population will have a good chance of being successfully employed in the workforce, thus being accepeted by society on a whole..

  4. Carli Fried says:

    You are saying a lot, Greg, when you talk about a person’s “value” and “potential”. Each of us is endowed with value and potential, and good managers recognize this and encourage their employees’ development despite anydifferences. We can all contribute something at that table;and if we all remain open to everyone’s contribution then the sky’s the limit!

  5. Dr. Rosen says:

    Diversity is a very important subject that we should be included in our college course requirements. Today’s organization provide diversity and inclusion training programs in an effort to help their workforce understand the value the positive dynamics that diversity brings to organizations and teams. Thanks for sharing.

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