According to the US Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in 12.7 percent. Take into account that the percentage of people with disabilities participating in the workforce is 20.7% as opposed to 69.2% participation for people without disabilities. These numbers are for November, 2012. For more information on disability employment statistics, please see the US Department of Labor website.
Drawing from my own personal observations and experience in the workforce, there are lots of people with disabilities are perfectly able to work. They just don’t know what resources to tap into for help finding a job, or they can’t get past the stereotype that someone with a disability can’t do such and such task.
In most cases they can perform said task, but require additional accommodations such as a screen reader or magnifier to complete the task. These accommodations are expensive, but there are agencies that can help provide the services. That’s what Vocational Rehab is for. Each state has their own division.
There are also staffing agencies that are geared towards employing people with disabilities. Here are a few examples, not meant to be an exhaustive list:
- Bender Consulting – http://www.benderconsult.com/
- Opportunity Works – http://opportunityworks.net/
- National Industries for the Blind – http://www.nib.org/
One issue with these types of organizations is that they don’t have that many opportunities for disabled workers with graduate degrees or are in specialized fields. I fit into that criteria. I have a master’s in library science. Library science encompasses a huge variety of specialized areas such as academic, school media, public, and corporate. From there you can break it down to different areas of the library. There are also opportunities outside of the library that a library science degree is useful for such as technical writing or research facilities. I ended up doing most of my job search myself because the disability staffing agencies I worked with are just not equipped to help with my area of expertise.
Transportation and mobility is another barrier that deserves its own post. But, I will say that mobile technology and teleworking is playing a bigger and bigger role. I’ve found several freelance and part time projects that allow me to work from home. The lines between assistive technology and mainstream technology are blurring rapidly. I think that the future holds a lot of great opportunities for people with disabilities in the workforce. Working remotely with the right technology can put disabled workers on an even playing field with their non disabled counterparts.
The economy has been tough on everyone, but I think that it is time to think outside of the box, tap into both the resources available for both companies and employees, and work towards creating a friendlier work environment for people with disabilities who are fully capable of working.