The Power of “Side by Side”

Aaron Bishop, Commissioner, Administration on Disabilities, speaks at an event.

Editor’s Note: This blog has been cross-posted from the Administration for Community Living’s blog.

By Aaron Bishop, Commissioner, Administration on Disabilities, Administration for Community Living

Every March we celebrate Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month and the many contributions people with developmental disabilities (DD) make to our society. This year, the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities, Association of University Centers on Disabilities, and National Disability Rights Network chose the theme “Side by Side” to highlight the principle that everyone benefits when people with and without disabilities live, learn, and earn “side by side” in the community.

This idea of true inclusion and integration is the backbone of our work at ACL, and we are proud to work with our DD network partners to make it a reality for all people.

However, it is not only people with and without disabilities who are stronger working side by side. This simple, yet powerful idea also applies to all of us working within the disability community. Historically, we have often worked within our individual spheres. DD advocates all knew each other and worked together, the independent living community did the same, and so forth. We were each doing great work, and we occasionally came together to accomplish great things such as the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act,  but we also missed some opportunities to achieve more by working together.

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What is an Invisible Disability?

Invisible Disabilities Association -

By Guest Blogger Wayne Connell, Founder, Invisible Disabilities Association

What is an “invisible disability?” Is it a specific illness or condition, such as multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, bipolar disorder, diabetes, a Chiari malformation or syringomyelia? Is it the symptoms of an illness or disability, such as pain or fatigue or neuropathy or brain fog? Why do we even use the phrase or where did it come from? Isn’t a disability just a disability, no matter if you can see it or not? Are people treated differently because their disability manifests itself visibly? Is having a disability different from being disabled? All great questions! Is someone, who has an illness or is in pain or has a disability or is disabled, a bad person who should be treated like a lesser human? I can answer that one. NO!

Twenty years ago in 1996, my wife, Sherri, coined the term “invisible disability.” Why did she come up with it? After receiving a diagnosis of primary progressive multiple sclerosis and chronic late stage Lyme disease in 1991, at the young age of 27, Sherri endured the stares and accusations and disbelief of strangers and friends that questioned how she could be disabled and still walk with seemingly unapparent outward signs of her disabilities. People would often scream at her when she parked in an accessible space or ignore her when she collapsed on the floor of a department store. So the phrase, “I have an invisible disability,” became an apt description of what she was living with.

As a tech guy, I decided to use some of Sherri’s pamphlets she wrote to help friends and family better understand what she was going through such as “Multiple What? Untangling the Perplexities of Multiple Sclerosis” and “Don’t Judge by Appearances – Parking with Invisible Disabilities” and created the website. That is when The Invisible Disabilities Advocate® was launched (which became the Invisible Disabilities® Association (IDA)). Almost immediately, 25,000 people a month started coming to IDA’s website and said that we put into words what they had been trying to tell their friends and families. “Invisible disabilities” progressed from a very descriptive term to an international organization and movement.

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The Foundation for Inclusion: The Interactive Process

Lou Orslene, Co-director, Job Accommodation Network (JAN)

By Guest Blogger Lou Orslene, Co-director, Job Accommodation Network (JAN)

I’ll start at the beginning. The foundation for an inclusive workplace is the reasonable accommodation process. Reasonable accommodation is a change in the workplace because of applicant or employee’s long standing disability, a new or progressive chronic health condition, a recent injury at work or off the job, a challenging pregnancy, or medical impairment. The essential underpinning for a successful accommodation is a robust interactive process. In order to build a structure, e.g. an inclusive workplace, you must have a blueprint. Follow me here – the blueprint provides an expeditious, consistent, and defensible model for everyone in their various roles to follow. This blueprint or model is also transparent to all, and, in light of the various risks, tolerates few deviations from the plan.

In my JAN experience now of almost 20 years, I find that far too many reasonable accommodation policies lack a blueprint. Hence, they are not actionable. Most provide the goal of equal opportunity for people with disability; many offer accommodations to applicants, new hires, and employees and provide an email address or an 800 number for people to call. But, few offer a comprehensive blueprint including a practical process containing all of the elements necessary for recruiters, hiring managers, supervisors, and human resource partners to know “what and when” to do when someone needs an accommodation or adjustment at work.

So let’s think of your accommodation policy and process as a blueprint. This blueprint provides the big picture as well as diagrams providing the detail necessary for people in various roles to reach that big picture goal – workplace inclusion. I suggest your blueprint include three primary diagrams representing three points in the employee life cycle. One would be for recruiters; one for hiring managers; and one for supervisors, HR partners, the Disability Coordinator, return-to-work specialist, workers compensation specialist, facilities manager (well you get the idea) and anyone else who you have found employees go to in order to request an accommodation.

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The CEED Project: The Potential of Entrepreneurship

Kate Caldwell, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago

By Guest Blogger Kate Caldwell, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago

What’s the difference between self-employment and entrepreneurship? It’s alright if you don’t know. Our research has found that there is a lot of misinformation about what exactly entrepreneurship is and how it differs from self-employment!

Entrepreneurship has such great potential as an employment strategy for people with disabilities. Indeed, entrepreneurship and self-employment are often used interchangeably in the disability context. We at The CEED Project created an infographic that is easy to share about some of the basics of disability-entrepreneurship.

Essentially, self-employment refers to creating a job for an individual with the goal of becoming financially self-sufficient.  In the business literature, it is meant as an alternative to salaried or wage employment. Entrepreneurship is meant to create a business that is profit- and growth-oriented. In this way, entrepreneurship results in both business and job creation not just for that individual, but with the possibility of hiring others in the future. While both self-employment and entrepreneurship are viable employment strategies, entrepreneurship is also an anti-poverty strategy. This is what gives entrepreneurship so much potential in addressing the problems of unemployment and underemployment facing people with disabilities. It also has the potential to shift our way of thinking about people with disabilities in employment: from seeing them not only as employees and passive recipients of services, but recognizing them as active participants, job creators, and possible employers. One of the most persistent barriers that people with disabilities encounter in employment is hiring discrimination. Consider the impact of entrepreneurship on how we think about inclusivity and workplace culture when people making the hiring decisions have a disability themselves!

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Tea Cures Captchas: Accessible Online Job Applications are More Than a Best Practice

Blogger Sassy Outwater

Editor’s note: This blog has been cross-posted from the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT)

When I applied for my first job, I was handed a print application. As a blind freshman in college, I decided to brazen it out and not ask for help filling out private information in a waiting room full of strangers who were probably there wanting the same job. I scanned the application into my computer, and brought it back neatly typed. I never got called in for an interview though, perhaps because my typed application didn’t look like the handwritten ones.

Years later, I was at my favorite café, facing another job application. This time, however, the job had an online application. Most businesses had shifted to online applications, but I found that the majority of online applications were partially or completely inaccessible.

I spent 90 minutes and two large green jasmine teas filling out that application. I vacillated between disclosing my disability in my cover letter, or just waiting until I showed up for the interview to tell the employer I was blind. Finally, decisively, I put my blindness and the talents it had helped me cultivate into the skills column. After all, being blind means I have to be resourceful, innovative, diplomatic, adaptable, organized… and that’s just to get through filling out an online job application.

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