Ms. Linda Dickerson
Dickerson & Mangus, Ink.
Indiana Country Club
October 12, 1998
Thank you for that generous introduction. I wish that my parents were here with us tonight to hear that introduction. My father would listen intently, but my mother - she'd believe every word of what you said. It's easy these days to be a good after-dinner speaker. To succeed, all you have to do is promise to not mention the words Monica Lewinsky for a full half hour, and people will love whatever else you have to say.
Talk about strange things happening in Washington these days, I find it to be a bit odd that Bob Dole recently released a best selling book on humor - of all things! I heard him the other night say that he did not think that President Clinton should resign. Instead, he thought that we should just hold the election again.
I offer no political commentary on his suggestion. Instead, I offer profuse commendation to Bob Dole for the consistent leadership that he provided towards advancing employment opportunities for people with disabilities. I offer similar accolades to all of you in the audience tonight, because you, too, demonstrated comparable leadership.
You are people who have discovered that the word ability is housed within the word disability. People with disabilities can, and should, contribute. We, as a nation, can no longer afford to isolate people with disabilities from the opportunities available to all Americans. We can't afford it because of the costs associated with subsidizing these individuals' experiences. This is true, but the primary reason that we can't afford to isolate people with disabilities is that we lose access to the extraordinary talent pool housed among those individuals.
A massive major shortage will soon challenge all employers. As the baby boomers age, older workers will comprise a growing percentage of the workforce. Many older workers' skill sets are outmoded in today's high-tech employment environment. Almost without exception, the jobs of the future will require a skill set that is foreign to most older workers. This will require most employers to break traditional paradigms in their hiring practices and will open opportunities for underemployed groups of people like those with disabilities.
In Pennsylvania the number of workers in the 25 to 34 age group is expected to drop by 25% between now and the year 2005. This means that companies that traditionally grow by adding groups of low-paid younger workers with technology skills to their staffs will have to explore alternative sources of comparable workers. One alternative source is, of course, people with disabilities - especially those individuals with the foresight to acquire the technology skills that will be a prerequisite to almost any job in the future.
The pool of persons with disabilities is a large untapped source of potential employees. Of the 49 million people with disabilities, 67% are unemployed. This is not because they don't want to work. In a 1994 survey of these unemployed individuals with disabilities, 79% indicated strongly that they want to work.
The numbers are even worse among populations of people with severe disabilities. In 1994, 14.2 million working age people had severe disabilities in this country. Seventy-four (74) percent of these individuals do not have a job.
These numbers are almost the inverse of the population as a whole. Of the total US working age population with and without disabilities, 82% are working. Only 26% of all people with severe disabilities are working. Clearly, we as a nation have a long way to go.
Discrimination, and societal predispositions against person with disabilities remain predominant. Discrimination is not an isolated incident. Neither, though, is disability. As I said earlier, 49 million people in the US have a disability. Twenty-four (24) million of these people have a severe disability, and 34 million people have a functional limitation. When we talk about disability, we are not talking about a diminutive or obscure subset of the total population. These numbers are huge, and they are growing. Discrimination impacts many. As the population ages, the incidence of disability will naturally increase since more than half of the population over age 65 has a disability. Once this nation realizes that being equal doesn't mean being the same, we will take a giant step forwards toward closing the gap between people with disabilities' earnest desire to hold jobs and the country's increasing need for qualified workers.
Employment is independence for people with disabilities. And, last time I checked, we were still the land of the free.
Companies like you represented tonight, provide critical evidence that employing people with disabilities is a positive experience. You supply evidence to a relatively circumspect employer population that people with disabilities can perform well on the job. Quite simply, you serve as the model for others to emulate. Your successful experiences mitigate the risk that others incur as they begin to open their office and factory doors to people with disabilities.
As someone with a disability, I thank you for being the pioneer in this effort. You have clearly opened new territories to all who come after you. Thank you for inviting me to join you this evening. May this be the first of many frontiers that you conquer.