I’ve worked in the disability employment policy arena for more than 20 years, and a lot has changed in this time. Looking back, the progress I’m most thrilled about isn’t just the policy action we’ve seen. Rather, it’s the significant shift in how we as a nation talk about disability and employment.
Today, disability has rightfully taken its place in the larger conversation about workplace diversity. Leading companies are now actively working to align diversity with their corporate brand, both internally and externally. This is because they know that inclusion works. They know that groups representing a range of perspectives outperform those with superior, but similar, skill sets. And they know that, as one of the nation’s largest minority groups, people with disabilities are an essential voice to have at the table.
Reflecting this perspective, #InclusionWorks will be the theme for National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2016. NDEAM is a nationwide campaign that celebrates the contributions of workers with disabilities and educates about the value of a diverse workforce inclusive of their skills and talents. Although not observed until October, we announce the annual theme each spring to help with advance event planning.
With this year’s hashtag theme, we hope to spur individuals and groups to post images and stimulate discussion on social media about the many ways “inclusion works.” I’m looking forward to the dialogue!
I think we’ll hear a lot about how inclusion works for workers. I know it certainly does for Adeline Joshua, an information analyst with the U.S. State Department and a Georgetown University School of Foreign Service alumna. Joshua, who has cerebral palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair, credits inclusive youth leadership experiences − especially involvement in Girl Scouts and an internship she obtained through the Workforce Recruitment Program − with laying the foundation for her career success.
I think we’ll also see how inclusion works for employers. It does for companies like Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, EY and others on DiversityInc’s “Top Nine Companies for People with Disabilities.” All of these companies, many of them federal contractors covered by Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, proudly proclaim disability inclusion to be a core corporate value — because they find doing so helps attract a wider pool of talent. And as the nation’s largest employer, the federal government also knows well that inclusion works, and is taking steps to increase it by strengthening Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Finally, I’m confident we’ll also see that inclusion works for innovation. It certainly did at Sassy Outwater’s workplace. Outwater, who is blind, had trouble applying for a prospective job opportunity due to an inaccessible online application process. With resourcefulness, she completed the process and got the position. She then urged her new employer to use her experience as a catalyst for making its technology more accessible across the board. Now, all qualified candidates can apply to work for the company. Through TalentWorks, a new tool from the Office of Disability Employment Policy-funded Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology, we’re helping more employers do the same.
These are just a few examples of the many ways #InclusionWorks. This October, we look forward to sharing and celebrating many more. We invite you to keep in touch with us and share what you are planning for NDEAM in your businesses, organizations and communities.
By Jennifer Sheehy, deputy assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy.