A couple weeks ago, I traveled to Philadelphia to take part in Comcast's Diversity & Inclusion Enrichment Series. Each month the Enrichment Series celebrates the diversity of their employees, the work they do, and how diversity strengthens the communities they serve, and in the process, their business.
Comcast was celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October and asked me to be a part of the panel. Joining me on the panel was AAPD board member Fred Maahs, who is a Senior Director of Community Investment for Comcast; Alex DiGiacomo, Director of Recruitment at Comcast; Rick Finkelstein, Vice Chair of NBCUniversal Pictures & EVP of NBCUniversal Studios. Comcast Senior Counsel Alan Lewine moderated the panel. The topic of the session was "Profit by Investing in Workers with Disabilities." It focused on the fact that people with disabilities represent a highly skilled talent pool that can help employers compete in today's economy.
The one-hour panel discussed a wide array of topics, from eradicating attitudinal barriers to employment, to best practices for identifying qualified candidates with disabilities, to improving disability employee awareness, to creating a culture where all employees feel comfortable seeking the things they need to perform their jobs effectively.
Most of the panel and audience were surprised, if not shocked, when I revealed the current disability employment statistics. As of September 2011, the labor force participation rate for people with disabilities — those individuals working, actively looking for work, and available to work — was 21.1%. For people without disabilities it was 69.7%. So, 21 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities continue to face pervasive unemployment. While our society has become far more accessible to people with disabilities, the promise of equal employment opportunities remains largely unfulfilled.
To strengthen the path toward equality and full access for people with disabilities, the public and private sectors will need to work together to increase employment opportunities and address disincentives to employment. People with disabilities should not have to fear losing their health care and other public benefits in the quest for a job. Access to transportation, personal care assistance, education, and training must be improved for people with disabilities to participate fully in the 21st century workforce. And like Comcast, where I also am a member of its Joint External Diversity Council, more private sector companies need to commit to improving employment outcomes for people with disabilities as part of their diversity efforts. More human and financial resources need to be devoted to creating inclusive workplaces. With an enhanced focus from the business community and support from the government, we may finally begin to see an increase in the employment of people with disabilities. And that should create better workplaces for everybody.