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Equity and Disability Employment Awareness

Equity and Disability Employment Awareness: A Function of Leadership

By Dan Lococo, PhD

The U.S. Department of Labor celebrates October as National Disability Employment Awareness month (NDEA). The theme for 2022 is, “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation.” This year’s theme calls on employers to reflect on how persons with disabilities (PWD) inclusion is (or is not) a part of the equity equation.

It is estimated that less than 20% of employers include persons with disabilities as part of their labor force. A major reason 72.6% of employers cite for not including PWD is the belief that we are unable to perform the work of the company. In contrast, the primary reason 82.6% of employers contact the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is to retain or hire a valued employee with a disability. JAN reports that 75% of disability accommodations cost less than $500, with 56% costing nothing. The disparity between the 82.6% of employers who reach out for assistance in retaining employees and the 20% of employers who include PWD is an opportunity for awareness and a focus on equity.

Disability accommodations take the form of such things as: making facilities accessible, job restructuring, and modifying policies. A key factor in the inclusion of PWD in professional settings is an organizational infrastructure that allows a PWD to be productive in the workplace. The nature of accommodations requires that organizational infrastructure align with the organization’s commitment to equity and inclusion. This can be done through intentionality or through positional authority.

Speaking with employers and persons with disabilities (PWD) provides insights into some of the ways organizational infrastructure impacts the inclusion of PWD in professional settings. Some examples of PWD inclusion:

  • A sales executive is told by the CEO that his multiple sclerosis (MS) will not be a barrier to his continued employment, followed by various accommodations including workspace and job redesign
  • An educator makes career choices based on the accessibility of various school buildings
  • A local municipality re-assigns workers to lighter duties, sometimes in other departments, rather than sending them home to collect disability compensation.
  • An employee seeks employment elsewhere after learning his supervisor does not see a path to inclusion through the organization’s bureaucracy
  • A supervisor does not offer a job to a qualified candidate after realizing he does not have the authority to adapt the current position description.

An important part of this equation is an understanding of the alignment between organizational infrastructure and the commitment to the inclusion of persons with disabilities. In the case of the CEO’s support of the sales executive, the CEO had the authority to ensure the appropriate accommodations would be made on a timely basis. In the case of the supervisor who did not feel he could extend an offer to a qualified job applicant, the Director of the organization’s Bureau of Equity & Inclusion noted that the organization’s employees are spread across several relatively independent divisions. Making an exception to a position description in one unit within a division could have problematic implications across the organization. In both cases, the organization’s commitment to equity and inclusion was a function of the ability of organizational infrastructure to respond to a call for inclusion.

Inclusion of persons with disabilities (PWD) involves an understanding of who has the authority to make appropriate decisions regarding the inclusion of PWD and ensuring that hiring authorities have access to those decision makers on a timely basis. Celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness (NDEA) month takes place each year in October. This year’s focus on disability as part of the equity equation calls on organizational leaders and hiring authorities to be aware of the intersection of organizational infrastructure and disability employment. This year’s theme for NDEA is a reminder that awareness can come from anywhere, equity is a function of leadership.


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