• Kristine Foss

Diversity within Disability

“I know someone with a disability”…

Do you know someone with a disability? I am 99.9% sure that all of us can answer that with a “yes”. Why am I so sure? 1 in 5 people in the United States have some type of disability. If we can all navigate “six degrees of Kevin Bacon”, I am certain that each one of us knows someone with a disability – but may not even know it.

Why the mystery? We are talking about a VERY large group of people who cut across every demographic group and that include people with visible and not so visible disabilities. It is a group that includes a person with a hearing or vision loss or a missing or partial limb or limbs; a person who has survived cancer, a person with depression or other hidden disability, a veteran who has been injured in service to our country, a person on the Autism Spectrum, or with Downs Syndrome or Multiple Sclerosis; and a person who suffered a stroke. I could go on and on with my list. Why don’t we know that we know a “person with a disability”? It’s quite possible that we simply think of those people I listed as our neighbor, our spouse, sibling, parent, friend, or co-worker and instead, think about their talent, personality, education, experience and abilities. So why is it different when we talk about hiring someone with a disability?

“I would like to hire someone with a disability, but this job requires…”

In my line of work, I have heard this phrase many times. You can end it with “…an advanced degree” or “…a lot of attention to detail and problem-solving skills” or “…leadership skills” or “a high degree of physical work.” Don’t get me wrong, I understand why a hiring manager might make this statement. As an HR professional, I know the time and thought that goes into determining the responsibilities and performance expectations for a role that needs to be filled. I also know that most managers just want to locate and hire the right person for the job. When I hear, “but this job requires…” my response is to discuss diversity within disability and help to make that connection to the 1 in 5 people they know who could successfully fill that position.

Sometimes even disability experts don’t recognize the “diversity within disability”…

Hey, there is a lot of history here that we are all trying to learn from and move beyond. It was not long ago that people with a disability worked in very segregated settings or “workshops” and not as a part of the rest of the workforce. As a result, our industry started setting “acceptable non-disabled to disabled” employee ratios. The intent was a good one; to make sure people with a disability were working side by side with their peers without a disability and not in “segregated workshops”. Good intent but ratios don’t recognize the diversity within disability. It goes back to that mystery…right now, you could be working on a team where everyone has a disability and you might not even know it. What is not a mystery is that your team consists of a group of people with unique abilities, prior experience and points of view. They each bring something different to the team – different disabilities and different abilities.

A wide range of talent, knowledge, skills and education ready to join your team!

That’s one of the main things we do at Disability Solutions - we make connections. We work to understand a company’s unique talent needs and find that 1 in 5 person who meets that need. We see the diversity within disability and are glad to help others see it too.

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