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Wrapping up National Disability Employment Awareness month: an overlooked but highly motivated workforce

In 1945, Congress designated the first week of October as "National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week." The title changed through the years, until in 1988, according to an Oct. 25 post at StarTribune.com, "Congress extended the recognition to all of October and renamed it National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This year's theme, "Talent Has No Boundaries: Workforce Diversity Includes Workers with Disabilities," was played out in numerous local events, including workshops on résumé writing and interviewing, job-seeking skills and self-advocacy."

Ticket to Work

Also embraced are SSDI recipients, which may surprise readers who think of those who receive Social Security Disability Insurance payments as totally or permanently disabled. Some are, of course. But others do recover enough to work again and for these folks SSA has a specific program called "The Ticket to Work." Describing advances regarding the disabled in general, Robin L. Shaffert, Senior Director of Corporate Social Responsibility of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), writes in an Oct. 29 HuffingtonPost: "As we look back on October's celebrations of National Work and Family Month and National Disability Employment Awareness Month, advocates for increasing workforce flexibility and advocates for improving employment outcomes for people with disabilities should recognize the progress we have made. To a far greater extent than a year ago, it is generally agreed today that creating a flexible workplace benefits all employees, but it especially benefits employees with disabilities."

High motivation, low absenteeism

The feature piece at StarTribune.com echoes that sentiment but ups the ante. It quotes Maxine Pegors, an HR consultant and disability-employment advocate: " 'One of the things that's really true about people with disabilities is that when they have a job, they are so highly motivated and have very low absenteeism and turnover,' said Pegors, citing studies that track attendance records comparing disabled employees to the general workforce. " 'They increase people's morale and instill a sense of positivity among all the employees. They are so excited to have the job and they have this big smile, so everybody around them gets this smile, too.' " I can personally attest to that--and even more. One of my earliest college journalism instructors careered not only about the UTA campus in a wheelchair but also through life, as though sloughing off his significantly limited use of one hand, barely acknowledging the less-than-full-range of the other. Despite physicalities, he became a hero to 20 or 30 years' worth of students, administrators and professors alike--including plenty who went on to become professional journalists throughout the world. Perhaps more important, he remains mentor and friend to untold thousands, both within and without the so-called disabled  community. My life without this man would not have been near as rich nor as fulfilling. The truth is, many times I struggled to keep up with John, and I don't know whether he's better off  for that--but I certainly am. OK, enough personal reflection. The point remains that employers are missing a bet--perhaps a huge bet--by overlooking the disabled as employees.

An untapped workforce

Pegors, who also co-chairs Bloomington's Committee on Disability Employment and Awareness, said, "We try to make employers aware that they might be missing some very good candidates if they aren't attracting people with disabilities," Pegors said. "It's an untapped part of the workforce that people need to know about."
The committee she co-chairs, "part of the city's Human Rights Commission, plans seminars and workshops on issues related to employment for the disabled. It also reaches out to businesses to tout the benefits of hiring employees with disabilities, and it presents an annual award to two businesses that excel at employing workers with disabilities. "In the United States, 54 million people have a legally qualifying disability, making up 19 percent of the non-institutionalized civilian population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In addition to facing physical and psychological challenges, disabled people also are far more likely to be unemployed. In August, the national unemployment rate for people without disabilities was 9.3 percent while the rate for people with disabilities was 15.6 percent, reports the federal Bureau of Labor."

A long way to go

Shaffert's piece continues: "We need to also recognize how far we still have to go to achieve the promise of equal employment opportunity for people with disabilities. A review of data from the American Community Survey presented in the Annual Disability Statistics Compendium 2010, released this week, shows that the percentage of people with disabilities who are employed, 35.3%, is less than half of the percentage of people without disabilities who are employed, 74.3%. Similarly, the unemployment numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for September 2010 reveal the difficulty that jobseekers with disabilities face today. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities stands at 14.8%, which is staggering even when compared to the far too high 9.0% unemployment rate for people without disabilities."

SSA links

The Social Security Administration's work program is called The Ticket to Work, which it describes as "The Ticket to Work program is voluntary. You get free training, job referrals and other services you need to work. You can give your “Ticket” to an approved provider of your choice. The provider can be either the state vocational rehabilitation agency or an employment network. You and the provider work together to make a work plan. The plan states exactly what services the provider will furnish. "If you work with a state vocational rehabilitation agency and your Ticket is not assigned to them, once they close your case you may assign your Ticket to an employment network if you are still eligible to participate in the Ticket program." Following are two links the SSA pages, which answer many questions about the program, such as how benefits are affected, and what happens if you work  successfully but the later have to go back on disability: