By John D. Kemp, President and CEO of The Viscardi Center
As we prepare to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the passage of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, I cannot help but ask, how many corporate CEOs, presidents or high-level executives with disabilities easily come to mind? Although I use four prostheses and steer a large not-for-profit in the New York metro area, I can only rattle off a few CEOs with a disability. While we’re seeing broadened gender and ethnic diversity at the top of the ladder, people with disabilities are still lagging when it comes to making it to the C-suite.
The lack of individuals in leadership roles is reflective of the employment woes people with disabilities are still experiencing. While the road towards this landmark anniversary includes many accomplishments, the employment of people with disabilities continues to be an area where we’ve barely moved the needle. We’re still seeing an outrageously low labor force participation rate, the percentage of people who are working or actively looking for work, by individuals with disabilities. The February 2015 labor force participation rate for people with disabilities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), was 19.8 percent, compared to 68.2 percent for people without disabilities. If well-educated, qualified individuals aren’t even in the workforce, how could they possibly climb the corporate ladder, or shall I say ‘ramp’?
Let’s look at ADA25 as a means of drawing attention to this continued challenge. If you are an employer, we need your “buy in.” You hold the keys to unlocking employment opportunities at all levels for people with disabilities. There is more untapped, educated talent out there than ever before. Embrace it. Recruit and hire people with disabilities. Advance those already within your organization and diversify your thought leadership.
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