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In order to strengthen the US economy, DEI programs must include disabled workers

By: Brett Chinn

Labor market analysis of 2021 demonstrates that disabled people have the worst employment outcomes among all demographic groups.

In fact, as of last month, 8.3% of disabled Americans were unemployed, compared with 3.1% of those without a disability.

BUT, if disabled workers were employed at the same rate as those without a disability, nearly 14 million more would have been working in 2021, according to a May 24th report published by the Center for American Progress.

In tight labor markets, the gap between unemployment rates for people with and without disabilities typically narrows. Yet now the gap is widening,


Well, there are several factors at play (including COVID-induced disabilities), but the one we can- and should- fix is flat-out discrimination.

Even though it may be unconscious bias, employers often see someone with a disability as someone that can’t do the job.

It’s gotten so bad that the EEOC recently warned employers about the potential for discrimination in using algorithms or online job applications to screen candidates. 

Meanwhile, hiring disabled workers would only serve to strengthen and encourage growth in the US labor market at a time when we need it most.

As someone with an invisible disability- and an advocate in the community – I urge people to disclose their disabilities and ask for accommodations. I also understand the fear that comes along with this. 

But, employers (and the federal government) must remember that workers of all genders, races, and ages, are disabled.  So in order to build a more stable and higher-growth U.S. labor market, it is imperative that all DEI or DEB policies must not only include disabled employees or candidates but focus on them. Doing so will only serve to benefit the economy as a whole.

Here are some easy ways that employers can create a more welcoming environment for disabled workers:

  • Audit your job postings. Are your job descriptions written using clear and concise language? Are significant key details such as working hours, salary, and essential skill sets written in a format that is easy to understand, or is this ambiguous? Job postings often include lengthy ‘wish lists’ of essential skills, so we recommend challenging these – do all employees really need “excellent communication skills” or the ability to “lift 25lbs”? This may dissuade disabled and neurodiverse candidates from applying.  
  • Check your tech. Is your applicant tracking system (ATS) easy to navigate? What about for people who are visually impaired? How long would it take someone to apply for a role at your company? It might not sound like a big deal, but to someone with physical and/or mental disabilities, a lengthy application may cause significant difficulties. (For example – I have to take breaks because my hands cramp after long spells of typing or writing.)
  • Unbias your interviews. Are you interviewing for skills or just for fit? Candidates with autism, for example, might find it difficult to make eye contact during an interview, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not capable of performing the role; in fact, small talk might prove overwhelming for some people. Instead of asking broad questions like, “What are your strengths?” ask for specific examples that are pertinent to the job at hand. This not only gives the interviewer more concrete information about the candidate’s experience but also makes the interview more manageable for neurodiverse candidates. 
  • Train your team. Disabilities are largely ignored in unconscious bias training, yet, for this training to be effective, attendees need to have a deep and profound understanding of it at the end of it for all subjects, not just the subjects that they have an interest in or natural empathy for. Don’t just talk about legalities and reasonable accommodations; cite relevant statistics (like the unemployment rate for disabled people) and the fact that most accommodations cost under $500. Give attendees a call to action, like forming an ERG, reviewing your department’s accessibility policy, or even volunteering at a non-profit organization that serves the disabled community.  

The bottom line is this: if your DEI policy doesn’t include or address people with disabilities, it is not truly “diverse”, and it’s not doing any favors for your employer brand or the economy as a whole.

To my fellow disabled folks, know this: a company that refuses to provide accommodations in the interview process, and lacks the empathy to employ a disabled person, is not a company you want to work at.

If you’re a member of the disability community, please share your experiences in the comments. And if you’re an employer, how are you working to be more inclusive of disabled candidates and employees, and what results have you seen?

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