“When you are a person with a disability,” my daughter often told me, “you spend your life hearing that your physical limitations are not an issue. Like anyone else, you can accomplish anything you’re willing to work hard to achieve.
“It’s just too bad no one else ever believes it.”
Like so many of the 33 million working-age people with disabilities in America today, my daughter often struggled to find acceptance and opportunity in the working world simply because she was confined to a wheelchair. And while it’s been more than twenty years since the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, there has been only marginal improvement in our ability and willingness to tap this overlooked talent pool.
That’s why it’s so important to celebrate those organizations that have recognized its value and champion larger efforts.
On April 8, some of the most progressive and successful companies in North America will come together in San Antonio, Texas, to renew their commitment to promoting practices that engage the disabled—both in the workforce and the marketplace.
Hosted by Toyota Motor Sales USA, this year’s Disability Matters conference will honor AT&T, Exelon Corporation, Office Depot, UPMC, Fifth Third Bank, Rush University Medical Center, Brown-Forman, Genentech, and PricewaterhouseCoopers for their efforts in the workforce and workplace. They’ll also recognize those individuals spearheading efforts to drive continual improvement at their own organizations, including Dawn Ehrhart, senior VP at Adecco; Margaret Madden, VP and assistant general counsel at Pfizer; and Brad Hopton, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
These organizations and individuals join a host of notable others whose dedication to bringing the best talent to the table has allowed them to see beyond common misconceptions—like accommodation will be costly, the need for supervision or assistance will be constant, or absenteeism will be chronic—that cause other companies to overlook candidates with disabilities.
Hear how they’ve done it, and learn about best practices your own organization can apply, at the Disability Matters conference April 8–10. Register today and join the organizations and people that are changing the conversation about what you can accomplish in your career when you live with disabilities.
Thank you, Kathie Sandin, for alerting us by your blog to the upcoming “Disability Matters” conference next month in San Antonio, Texas, and thus for leading my online navigation to Clint Michael Reneau, Panelist for the “Workforce Panel” convening at the conference on the morning of April 9, as Director of the Office of Disability Services at Texas State University. Accordingly I read his related philosophy profile in an article, “Office of Disability Services meeting outlines new goals, philosophy” of February 19, 2013 by News Reporter Xander Peters for “The University Star” of Texas State University where Mr. Reneau works. A pertinent extract from the profile by Xander Peters is quoted, with then my comments relevant to your blog:
“Clint-Michael Reneau is the new director of the Office of Disability Service, and spoke about his mission, vision and new leadership philosophy for ODS at Monday’s meeting.
Reneau said the committee has to approach each student from an individual basis and be aware of how their identities impact the services they require. He said they must look at each student from a social justice standpoint to understand how “ableism,” discrimination against people with disabilities, is an issue.
“Part of our identity is our ability,” Reneau said. “My philosophy stems from moving from a medical model, where we put the problem on the student and say that the student has the disability. That’s where the problem lies.”
Reneau said ODS has to look at the environmental barriers blocking the student from success.”
My comments are brief but important:
(1) The term “identities” is a rare instance of such usage within the disability rights community, but right and pivotal for employers being able to accept disabled workers as having identities and thus being human persons able to think as well as “abled’ workers. Such acceptance can be an effective way to advance “social justice” within the workforce that avoids discrimination. This applies not only to those who have physical disabilities as mentioned in your blog, but also mentally disabled ones who have also gone through many trials. It is also a specific way for employers to – in your words — “value and champion” the “larger efforts” that you mention.
(2) Employers’ use of the so-called “medical model” mentioned in the profile of Xander Peters is a subtle form of discrimination against the disabled worker that indeed can be avoided when the employer looks at the environment that the disabled worker has to deal with, but as one presenting opportunities as well as threats to the survival and growth of the firm that the employer is in charge of. The disabled worker can have not only abilities but also unique heuristics and perspectives out of which solutions to old problems that the company faces can come, even solutions that no “abled” worker would ever be able to come up with.
(3) On paper, then, and in your own words, Mr. Reneau looks just like one of those whose “dedication to bringing the best talent to the table has allowed them to see beyond common misconceptions — like accommodation will be costly, the need for supervision or assistance will be constant, or absenteeism will be chronic—that cause other companies to overlook candidates with disabilities.”
I am a disabled, retired scientist, and it is my hope then that this new message of hope can be extended deeply enough into the American consciousness to include (A) the workforces, workplaces and marketplaces peopled by the workers and stakeholders who happen to be Scientists, Technologists, Engineers, and Mathematicians (STEM) whose innovations and inventions are so important to the creativity and productivity of our knowledge-based national economy, and (B) the sector of U.S. non-profit professional organizations (such as the Am. Chem. Soc., Am. Institute of Physics, AAAS, and IEEE), to which many of them belong but by which they are often underserved and even marginalized as members.
Thank you for listening.
Absolutely, Dr. Frost. The points you make truly hit home. I believe it is our job as advocates–not just of equity for the disabled, but of equity for all people–to keep conversations like this flowing. Thank you so much for commenting.
This is great, thanks for the share Dr. Frost.