Including Disabilities in DE&I

By Laurel Rossi

From Major League Baseball to retailers like Best Buy, L’Oréal, and Target, organizations big and small are having conversations on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion like never before. While companies are all turning inward to focus on hiring practices, those with disabilities are being left out – left to the employment struggles and living room couches all too familiar from this past, pandemic year.

While not all of us are aware of these realities, the statistics on the disability community are staggering. About 1 in 4 American adults live with a disability, either intellectual or developmental, according to the CDC. This group of people is the largest most impoverished population in the US. 85 percent are unemployed. Those that do work can legally be paid subminimum wage, with some wages as low as 3 cents an hour, as Sara Hart Weir explains in her piece.

My organization, Creative Spirit, is the first nonprofit fully dedicated to finding fair-wage, integrated positions at the best companies in the world for the disability population. Our mission is simple: create and support the successful placement of individuals with disabilities at the most creative, forward-thinking companies in the world by matching employers with individuals who are loyal, enthusiastic, qualified, and bring a new kind of energy to any organization.

Right now, we are so happy to support the recent bipartisan work of Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA): the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act (H.R. 2373). It would provide states and employers with the resources to transition workers with disabilities into fully-integrated and competitive jobs while phasing out subminimum wage for individuals with disabilities.

The bill is a much-needed leap forward for the disability community, which has been largely left behind by legislators, aside from incremental steps forward with the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act in 2014 and the ABLE to Work Act in 2017. With the exception of the ABLE Acts, the federal laws governing the disability community are over 30 years old (the 1991 Americans with Disabilities (ADA)) or even 80 years old (the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act)!

Critically, the bill would enable organizations across the country to improve their current Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion conversations by no longer excluding the disability community. I understand that some employers might have some hesitations – that’s why Creative Spirit commissioned a new survey of the corporate decision-makers who are responsible for hiring. We examined the attitudes, behaviors, and barriers for hiring those individuals with disabilities into fair-wage, integrated positions. You can read our #HireDifferent report here.

The barriers found in the study are things we can easily overcome – especially in a technological era with a growing minimum wage and tremendous workforce mobility. The study is largely written for businesses, guiding them towards hiring, retaining, and supporting individuals with disabilities. In this manner, businesses would allow candidates with disabilities to become a fundamental part of their hiring process.

Our goal is to create 1 million jobs during this decade. Please reach out if Creative Spirit and our study can be of use to you. It is only through working together that we ensure the workforce no longer closes its doors, zoom screens, and job applications to people with disabilities.

Laurel Rossi is the co-founder and chairperson of Creative Spirit.

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