Redefining the Inclusive Workplace: The Graying Effect

Filed in Disabilities, DOL, Jobs by on September 18, 2013 3 Comments

Today, a confluence of factors is prompting America to change the way it thinks about age and work. The economic climate, shifting perceptions of retirement, increased options for workplace flexibility and that infamous “baby boom” bubble are all contributing to people working longer.

Many of these skilled, experienced workers will develop disabilities as they age, or existing disabilities will affect them more. To retain and support their talents, employers can implement a variety of workplace practices, most of which benefit all workers.

Jewelry Designer Elaine Robnett Moore

Elaine Robnett Moore, who has arthritis, has been designing jewelry for more than 20 years. Her pieces are worn by women across the country and the globe.

This so called “graying” effect is just one more example of how the issue of disability employment is currently being redefined — both in terms of who we include in a disability context and how we think about disability issues. A critical paradigm shift is underway. The conversation about disability and employment is expanding, and older workers are an important part of the discussion.

Just think about it: Until recently, when someone said, “employee with a disability,” most people probably thought about someone like me — someone born with a disability or with an apparent (and probably physical) disability. But as the workforce ages, so does the image of disability employment. I’d argue that this expanded view offers a real opportunity for America’s employers and employees to rethink what it means to be an inclusive organization.

These so called “older workers” may not realize that disability policies apply to them, but they know that they need or want to work. They may not have heard the term “accommodation,” but they know what tools they need to do their jobs. Similarly, employers may not be consciously thinking about their disability employment responsibilities, but they’re probably using strategies — such as flexible work arrangements and accommodations — to help them retain valued workers and ensure they are productive. Such inclusive practices enhance corporate continuity efforts. What’s more, they foster innovation by adding diverse perspectives on how to confront business challenges and achieve success.

I find this all fascinating. This expanded, more inclusive model is helping reinforce the message that disability affects all of us, so all of us should care about disability employment issues. Age-related, acquired conditions are disabilities, the same way that my blindness is a disability. It’s not an “us-them” issue. It’s a “we” issue.

Today, an inclusive workplace means accommodating all employees when certain needs arise — not just those of us who were born with, or have obvious, evident disabilities, but also those who age into disability but want to continue to contribute. Doing so is good for people, and it’s good for business.

Kathy Martinez is the assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy.


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Comments (3)

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  1. Teri Redl says:

    I’m not sure I agree. I want to, but too many employers turn us away. I am 62, divorced after 32 years, laid off two years ago, forced to short sell my house, have gotten a degree in Leadership and Career Development, but still struggle with getting hired. I have alot of energy and experience along with a my new degree and although I get plenty of interviews, others get the job. Interesting….

  2. Colleen Foster says:

    I am only 52 and worried about my future. I am struggling with arthritis in my back and knees. Companies change and I too must change, but the fear remains, will they keep me because I am aging?

  3. Diamond Rings for Women says:

    Most of the persons who have disabilities do have lack of self confidence when it comes on applying for a job but still they do deserve to be given a chance because they might be better than those employees who don’t have any disabilities.

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