This past Monday, an op-ed piece I wrote was featured in our local newspaper. I thought I would share it below, for anyone who may have missed it!
Every July, we celebrate two anniversaries of independence. One is, of course, July 4th. The second is less well known. On July 26th, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the historic Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.
While the ADA has led to changes throughout society, perhaps the greatest area of impact is in the area of employment. With passage of the ADA, employers were required to give all qualified individuals equal opportunity in the workforce, regardless of any disability they may have.
Now, 25 years later, we have seen so many wonderful achievements for individuals with disabilities. And we have seen incredible growth in the overall community’s attitude and mindset regarding people with disabilities. No longer are persons with intellectual disabilities hidden away in institutions; rather, we hear more and more success stories every day about what people with disabilities are accomplishing. It really is a joyous thing.
Across the Erie community, scores of businesses have opened their doors to hiring people with disabilities. Over the last several years, the Barber National Institute has assisted hundreds of individuals in securing employment. Currently, 25 local businesses employ adults with intellectual disabilities who have been trained through our supported employment program.
Still, we know that there is always more work that can be done. Too often, I hear of people who are considering opening their doors to offer employment opportunities, but have concerns. I want to debunk some of these more common myths about employing individuals with disabilities.
Myth: Hiring workers with disabilities increases workers compensation insurance rates.
Fact: Insurance rates are based solely on the relative hazards of the operation and the organization’s accident experience, not on whether an employer has hired workers with disabilities.
Myth: Providing accommodations for people with disabilities is expensive.
Fact: Did you know that many accommodations or special equipment are available at absolutely no cost? And for the minority of workers with disabilities who do need some sort of special equipment or accommodation, 56% of these cost less than $600. Employers should know that available tax incentives make it even easier for businesses to cover accessibility costs.
Myth: Employees with disabilities have a higher absenteeism rate than employees without disabilities.
Fact: Studies show that employees with disabilities have a lower absenteeism rate and a lower turnover rate when compared to employees without disabilities.
People with disabilities are wonderful assets to a business. They are typically prompt, work until the job is complete, are not searching for alternative employment, and are dedicated to doing a thorough job.
I can’t think about the passage of the ADA without recalling a remarkable woman who was seated in the audience. Dr. Gertrude A. Barber was a member of President Kennedy’s commission on Mental Retardation, involved in crafting and promoting the ADA, and, of course, known for her life’s work on behalf of creating opportunity for individuals with disabilities. In recognition of her efforts, Dr. Barber was invited to the White House to see this landmark legislation passed into law.
I can recall how happy she was to see this step taken to end discrimination, and how proud she was that the Erie region was on the forefront of this battle.
Each year, approximately 50,000 individuals with disabilities turn 18. Nearly half of these individuals will have average or above average intellectual capabilities. Whether you are a business owner or an employee at a business, consider contacting the Barber National Institute to see what steps you can take to become a place of employment for adults with intellectual disabilities.