Atlanta, GA,
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Businesses Benefit by Employing People with Disabilities

Shepherd Center advocacy director explains efforts under way to increase employment of people with disabilities.

By Mark Johnson
Director of Advocacy, Shepherd Center

Cultural diversity and the capacity to value individual differences are more important today than ever, especially in the workplace. Businesses can remain competitive by maintaining a flexible and inclusive work environment that ensures people with disabilities are represented in their workforce.

In March 2014, 4.67 million people with disabilities were participating in the U.S. labor force. That means fewer than 20 percent of people with disabilities are working or looking for work, compared to 68 percent of people without disabilities. In recent years, numerous efforts have focused on changing this unfortunate reality.

In 2008, the U.S. Office of Disability Employment Policy sponsored the addition of new questions to the monthly Current Population Survey to gauge the employment status of people with disabilities. January 2009 marked the first month for which data on disability employment was available. Today, this data is updated monthly, providing citizens and policymakers with reliable information to remove barriers to employment.

In 2009, a coalition of disability and business organizations launched the What can YOU do?” Campaign for Disability Employment. In addition to its ongoing activities that promote disability employment, the campaign has created two public service announcements:

  • Because" pays tribute to the mentors and role models who inspire success for individuals with disabilities.
  • ”I Can” highlights what people with disabilities “can” do at work and the value they bring.

On July 26, 2010, President Obama issued Executive Order 13548, which challenges the federal government to become a model for the employment of individuals with disabilities. The Executive Order instructs the director of the Office of Personnel Management – in consultation with the Secretary of Labor, the Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget – to design model recruitment and hiring strategies for agencies to facilitate their employment of people with disabilities. (Visit this U.S. Department of Labor web page for information on new regulations to improve job opportunities for people with disabilities.)

By the end of 2015 and ADA25 (25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act), the Six by ‘15 campaign would like to have the 4.67 million people with disabilities in the U.S. workforce increase to 6 million. The campaign builds on the employment goal that U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) set in 2011. In a keynote address to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Corporate Disability Employment Summit, he called on CEOs and business owners to join him in his goal to increase the number of Americans with disabilities participating in the workforce.

Since 1988, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) has occurred during October. NDEAM is a national campaign that raises awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America's workers with disabilities.

MARK JOHNSON is the director of advocacy at Shepherd Center, where he has worked since 1987. In this role, Mark – who sustained a spinal cord injury in a 1971 diving accident – works to research and identify disability issues. He also educates staff and community members, organizes local networks and serves as a local liaison to national disability rights groups. Mark has been recognized by his peers numerous times, and his accolades include the Spirit of the ADA award, 2001 New Mobility Person of the Year award and induction into the SCI Hall of Fame. You can connect with Mark on LinkedIn or by calling Shepherd Center at 404-352-2020.

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.