Last month I had the pleasure of attending the U.S. Business Leadership Network national conference, an annual gathering of companies committed to increasing disability inclusion. For three days, these model employers — ranging from Fortune 500 companies to small businesses — shared strategies for increasing disability inclusion across not only the workplace, but also the marketplace and supply chain. Although the different strategies discussed varied depending on the size and nature of company, one common message rang loud and clear: inclusion works. This message was very affirming to those of us at the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion, known as EARN. A service of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, EARN works to advance workforce diversity by educating businesses of all sizes on ways to build disability-inclusive workplace cultures, and effectively recruit, hire, retain and advance qualified people with disabilities. The message was also timely: #InclusionWorks is the theme of this year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Celebrated annually in October, NDEAM is dedicated to honoring the contributions of people with disabilities to the workforce. This month, we’re excited to unveil our newly redesigned website, AskEARN.org. Featuring updated content, an enhanced design and a streamlined navigational structure, our new site provides a centralized gateway to employer-focused tools, and resources and training on disability diversity and inclusion. In short, it’s a place to learn the many ways “inclusion works.” The businesses I met with at the USBLN conference are among those already reaping the benefits of disability inclusion, and on more than one level. Many of the organization’s members are federal contractors who are required by Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act to take proactive steps to ensure their doors, both literal and virtual, are open to qualified people with disabilities, and that those employees have the opportunity to advance once inside. As the leader of a diverse team and someone who believes deeply in the benefits of differing perspectives, I can proudly say that inclusion certainly works for me. Indeed, research tells us that diverse groups surpass non-diverse groups with similar skills, even when those skills are theoretically superior. As one of the nation’s largest minority groups — approximately 56.7 million individuals, according to 2010 census data — it’s important that people with disabilities are represented at the table.
This month I hope businesses of all sizes and in all industries will participate in the NDEAM spirit by sharing images on social media illustrating how inclusion works for them. (Remember to use the hashtag #InclusionWorks.) Most importantly, however, I hope businesses will continue the conversation well beyond this month. Let’s keep the momentum of NDEAM going strong and remain steadfast in our common goal of fostering inclusion in every workplace in America. Because this month and every month, #InclusionWorks. Brett Sheats is the national project director of the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy under a cooperative agreement with The Viscardi Center.