In a discussion about diversity, the topics of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation frequently come up, but it’s important to not forget all the characteristics that create a persons’ self-being.
Jeff Sidders, MD, business outreach specialist with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, discussed the importance of capability in his presentation to the Diversity and Inclusion Council on February 9.
Dr. Sidders shared a bit about his personal background and how a brain tumor changed his life from practicing medicine to becoming an advocate at the Department of Labor and Employment. He discussed how life can shift unexpectedly, and suddenly what a person used to be able to do, is no longer possible.
In his presentation, Inclusion Drives Innovation: Bridging Business & Ability, he said, “Diversity and Inclusion are good for the bottom line and absolutely necessary to remain relevant in today’s increasingly interconnected markets and global economy.” Dr. Sidders refers to the term Differently-Abled: a physical or mental condition that interferes with a person’s ability to walk, talk, see, hear, learn, speak, etc. He brings this up to make his point that disability is NOT a handicap. A handicap is a barrier. The example he gives is “stairs are the handicap. A person’s disability might be the inability to climb stairs.”
To be inclusive in a workplace, it is important to know these differences. He also acknowledges that disability affects people of all ages, race, gender, and backgrounds and that nearly 20 percent of 54 million people in the U.S. have a disability. That’s approximately 1 in 5 individuals, in which many of these individual’s disabilities are hidden and not readily apparent. The likelihood of acquiring a disability increases with age. “This is the one minority group that any one of us can join at any time.”
Dr. Sidders provided some best practices on how to be inclusive in the workplace with differently-abled employees such as:
- Assist with recruiting
- Determine reasonable accommodations and assistive technology needs
- Promote a positive and barrier-free workplace
- Provide disability awareness training
- Provide consultation and technical assistance on the ADA
- Fund on-the-job training
- Offer an employer stipend
- Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC)
- Provide coaching and training at the job site
- Follow-up with employer and employee
- Assist with current employees
He expressed that workers with disabilities represent a significant source of innovation and productivity and that a diverse and inclusive workforce is critical to success. Dr. Sidders concluded with a statement to encourage employers, “you now know a virtually untapped source of pre-screened qualified candidates.”