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  • Julie Cook Sowash

Why Is It So Hard to Find (and Hire) People with Disabilities?

I have to be honest, I have spent 2 MONTHS writing this single blog post. Bloggers block? Laziness? Frustration? Probably. After attending a conference in August, I decided I was going to write the classic bright shiny objects (BSO) blog, an opportunity to point out what I saw as obvious distractions in the current approaches to outreach and hiring in the disability talent pool. After a chat with a friend and colleague, I realized that not only did I not sound like a nice person, I was likely to anger those that I really wanted to support. Sorry you missed that, right? Didn’t think so. I woke up this morning with new insight. BRIGHT SHINY OBJECTS: TACTICS WITHOUT A STRATEGY The solutions and activities I have been seeing as bright shiny objects are not really distractions to successfully hiring people with disabilities. They are tactics without a strategy. In both the business and disability communities, we talk a lot about successful strategies, but in reality many organizations on both sides of the table don’t yet have a strategy when it comes to meaningful disability hiring and retention initiatives. If there are tactics in place that are not yet aligned to a strategy — with defined goals, timeframes, and owners — the likelihood of success is minimal. These tactics could then become simply the bright shiny objects that keep leaders, companies, and individuals from achieving their goals. Tactics turned BSO take focus off of the glaring lack of strategy and lull leaders in to passive acceptance that the solution is in place. The BSO can be the next latest and greatest product/solution/technology that will make us compliant and diverse with the click of a button or delegation of our duties. Who can deny the lure of THE easy, low-touch, low-cost solution to achieving disability hiring goals? That solution may be a great tool, but it has be part of an overarching strategy. IF IT WERE EASY WE WOULD HAVE DONE IT BY NOW There, I said it…out loud. If achieving disability hiring goals were easy, I wouldn’t have a job and none of you would be reading this post. If it were easy, there wouldn’t be a 19% labor force participation rate and a 12.1% unemployment rate among working aged Americans with disabilities. If it were easy, the 2.3 million United States veterans with service related disabilities would be working. But there is (and they aren’t). This isn’t easy. STOP FIGHTING THE OLD: FOCUS ON THE NEW The human condition requires that we fight change. I would venture to say again, out loud, that the changes to section 503 and section 4212 will be the most difficult for organizations to implement and to integrate into their way of life. African Americans, women, and other groups have fought for decades and their struggles have and will continue to pave the way. It is time for jobseekers with disabilities to become a normally represented part of the American workforce. “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” -Socrates The OFCCP tells us that it is our responsibility, not our vendors’, to demonstrate an organizational commitment to disability hiring and retention through outcomes, not just outreach anymore. We aren’t going back to the old world and there is no easy fix. In the end, our goal should be to create a truly diverse workforce in the current environment. Our affirmative action plans are just a measurement tool of our progress. GETTING FROM TACTICS TO STRATEGY In order to create successful initiatives each of the following questions must be answered.

Vision Why does my organization want to hire qualified jobseekers with disabilities? Strategy What goals will need to be achieved to demonstrate commitment to our vision? Tactics How do we get from where we are today to successfully achieving our goals? MORALE OF THE STORY: TACTICS WILL NOT HELP US ACHIEVE OUR GOALS IF THEY ARE NOT PART OF AN OVERARCHING STRATEGY. TRUE CHANGE WILL COME WHEN COMPANIES AND DISABILITY EXPERTS COME TOGETHER TO CREATE COHESIVE STRATEGIES AND SYSTEMS THAT WILL BRIDGE THE GAPS TO EMPLOYMENT AND DISABILITY.

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