This holiday season, people are looking for the perfect gifts for loved ones. Likewise, there are thousands of businesses looking for employees to fill their job openings.
For millions of qualified, talented and dedicated Americans with disabilities, what they want is a job. Employment is about a lot more than just a paycheck: it provides a way to contribute to the community, the chance to develop friendships and a way to improve health. As with all of us, the work we do and the career we pursue often defines us. Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life. People with disabilities deserve an equal opportunity to earn an income, achieve independence and be included, just like anyone else.
Studies show that 70 percent of working-age people with disabilities would like to work and the majority of youth with disabilities can succeed at a job when given the right opportunities and supports. There are many kinds of disabilities. Some, like blindness, deafness and physical disabilities, are readily observable. Others, such as autism, learning disabilities and mental health conditions, are less so (“What's 'neurodiversity'? Movement promotes rights, hiring for people with ADHD, dyslexia, on autism spectrum,” Nov. 2). Regardless of the type of disability, people with disabilities also can have significant abilities. Stephen Hawking unlocked secrets of the universe from a wheelchair. Innovator and entrepreneur Richard Branson — like most of the panelists on the TV show “Shark Tank” — is dyslexic. The voice-activated TV remote control was invented by a blind engineer.
People with disabilities who have been welcomed into the workforce at all levels have proven to be both innately innovative and extremely loyal to their employers. Altogether, according to the University of New Hampshire annual Disability Statistics Compendium, there are 334,505 working-age people with disabilities living in Maryland. However, even though the vast majority of them would like to find gainful employment, only 41.1 percent — less than 4 in 10 — have been able to find a job, ranking Maryland 17th in the country in terms of employing people with disabilities. There are literally millions of open jobs today and millions of people with disabilities ready to work. As employers face a real shortage of talent, hiring people with disabilities can be a great solution. They can bring innovation and loyalty to any team.
There are many solutions available that can ensure the success of employees with disabilities. Most accommodations for employees with disabilities are simple, free or low cost. AskJan.org offers employers and job seekers free guidance about how to use technology to ensure inclusion. The Talent Acquisition Portal is a free database with thousands of resumes of highly capable professionals with disabilities in all 50 states. Meanwhile, the National Disability Mentoring Coalition (NDMC) works to ensure mentorship opportunities for people with disabilities to launch their careers. If you have a job opening, why not seek out candidates with disabilities for interviews? If you have time to volunteer, why not mentor a job seeker with a disability who is looking for that big break? You can call your local disability organization, place of worship, vocational rehabilitation team or RespectAbility to meet job seekers with disabilities in your area.
Just as there are millions of open jobs in America today, there are millions of individuals with disabilities eager, ready and qualified to work. Any of the millions of people with disabilities now being sidelined could be the person who discovers Alzheimer’s prevention or a new clean energy source. We must imagine a world where we expect more from people with disabilities — and enable them to achieve this success. This holiday season, let’s work together to ensure that more people with disabilities have the chance to achieve the dignity, income, friends and independence that comes from work.
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi
The writer is the president of RespectAbility, a national nonprofit fighting stigma and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. Dyslexic herself, she also knows what it means to raise a successful child with multiple disabilities. She can be reached at JenniferM@RespectAbility.org.