By Guest Blogger Barbara Otto, CEO of Health & Disability Advocates and Executive Director of Think Beyond the Label
Each time a new year begins, I ask myself, will this be a better year for people with disabilities? To answer that question, I look at the many economic, social and cultural facets that are shaping our current society.
We have a U.S. president who has put the disabilities agenda on the map, calling for the federal government to be a role model in hiring people with disabilities. We’re also in a time of increased awareness of disability, made possible by more than 3,000 wounded warriors who are returning home and re-visualizing how they see their lives, despite their physical or mental disability. Even television shows (like Glee and The Amazing Race) are portraying people with disabilities as capable and as normal as anyone else. When the 2012 Paralympic Games take place in London, it’s another opportunity for the world to see ability – not disability.
But we also have to look at the economic landscape, and there’s no denying we are in a period of high unemployment, which hurts job prospects for people with disabilities, who are less likely to be hired because of deep-seated yet unfounded myths. In fact, hiring a person with a disability is more likely to positively impact a business. Not just financially through tax incentives and lowered costs, but also by improving the way the business thinks, operates, innovates and grows.
At Think Beyond the Label, we created an interactive ‘wizard’ to help businesses realize the real benefits of hiring a person with a disability. Hire Gauge is the only online resource of its kind that depicts the tangible monetary incentives that can accumulate each time a company hires a person with a disability, which, for a typical large business, can reach $31,800 per hire.
Hire Gauge takes the message one step farther, summing up all of the cultural benefits that businesses reap when they recruit, hire and retain a qualified job seeker with a disability, including veterans. These benefits range from workplace diversity and access to new customers, to attracting new entrants to the workforce who are increasingly seeking out companies with a strong social conscience – such as places which hire people with disabilities. It’s a win-win for businesses and job seekers alike.
Another way we’re spreading the message that businesses should hire people with disabilities is our new jobs portal, which gives candidates with disabilities free access to nearly one million job listings from more than 90,000 vetted employers – many who are actively seeking to hire from this group.
We know this is timely: The Department of Labor has just proposed a rule that would require federal contractors and subcontractors – around 200,000 U.S. businesses – to set a hiring goal of seven percent for the employment of people with disabilities. So there’s really no better way than for these companies to make sure their job openings are listed on our jobs portal, and to align themselves with our message: Think Beyond the Label when you’re looking to hire.
All of these initiatives speak volumes about our evolution from a print, television and digital campaign to becoming a connector for businesses, job seekers with disabilities and the public workforce system. We’re working to facilitate more collaboration amongst these groups to help build the pipeline of qualified candidates with disabilities and meet businesses’ overall hiring needs.
Whether you’re a business connecting directly with candidates with disabilities through our jobs portal, or working with our state and local employment agency partners to find qualified candidates, we can help you succeed. And when you partner with Think Beyond the Label, you’re making your business more attractive to your employees, customers and other stakeholders.
So I think the answer is yes, 2012 is going to be a better year for people with disabilities. As we and other organizations continue to raise awareness about hiring people with disabilities; as more businesses see – and capitalize on – the advantages of hiring people with disabilities; as the government pursues real employment goals; and as job seekers get the resources they need to support their aspirations. Indeed, we will move “beyond the label” and make real progress.
Happy New Year to everyone!
To watch Think Beyond the Label’s television commercials, visit our YouTube channel.
Barbara A. Otto is the executive director of Think Beyond the Label, a private-public partnership that helps businesses and the public workforce system more effectively recruit, hire and retain job seekers with disabilities. As CEO of Chicago-based Health & Disability Advocates (HDA), she and HDA manage Think Beyond the Label on behalf of more than 40 states and various national and regional organizations. Barbara is an adjunct faculty member at Cornell University’s Program on Employment and Disability and a consultant to Virginia Commonwealth University, providing technical assistance to states working to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities. In 2000, the Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities in Illinois awarded Barbara the Justin Dart Award for Advocacy, and in 2003 she received a national commendation from the Social Security Administration. In 2011 President Obama appointed her to the national Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion and Integrative and Public Health.