Joyce Bender
Bender Consulting Services, Inc.

As we read all the horrible statistics about the high unemployment rate of Americans with significant disabilities, we do not always read that the highest percentage of that unemployed group are minorities with significant disabilities. Once again, it seems that minorities are left out of the equation, when it comes to true equality in the workplace. In the world of competitive employment, the tragedy in this country for all Americans with significant disabilities is exclusion and those who are minorities are at the highest level of that exclusion.

True equality in the workplace means that minorities are not just a high percentage of the work force, but are in executive positions that really count and make an impact - such as Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operating Officer or Chief Executive Officer. To really make a change in corporate America today, diversity cannot be heralded and praised because a percentage of people of color are hired. What positions are they holding in the company? Are they at the bottom or top of the corporate pyramid?

One CEO said, "There are only so many Officer level positions in a company." Well, how many positions are there at an executive level in the company? How many hiring managers are there in the company? To really see change, you must see minorities in hiring positions - just as people with disabilities need to move into hiring positions, including minorities with significant disabilities.

People who "get it" are tired of hearing people say you cannot find minorities to fill positions. That is a lie. Last year over 40% of the hires at Bender Consulting Services, Inc. were minorities with disabilities, who filled positions in information technology, accounting, and human resources. Bender did not hang out a special flag to find minorities with disabilities - people just applied. This really questions the "screening process" that goes on in corporate America today. People are out there and available for work, but you must really want to find them and treat them equally before you can hire them.

First, when you hire someone in Human Resources for recruitment, hire a minority with a disability. There are over 50 million Americans with disabilities to choose from, but you must have an aggressive plan to succeed. Change begins at the gate. The gatekeeper must understand the plight of Americans with disabilities to create change.

Next, examine the depth and breadth of the recruitment plan already in place. Is there an on-going commitment to including minorities with significant disabilities in place, or is this group not targeted seriously.

Begin in the high schools in your community to reach out to minorities with disabilities. Start internship programs at your company today. The only way to create change is to begin early. Many students are available and are seeking summer part-time employment or internships. You should also have your Recruiter work with the transitional coordinators at the high schools specifically on this issue.

The third Wednesday of every October is Disability Mentoring Day - a day for high school or college students with disabilities to job shadow at your company. This is another great avenue to find minorities with disabilities. The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), aapd.com, and the Federal Department of Labor has managed this for years.

AAPD is a cross-disability organization in the United States and another great advisor for any organization when dealing with any disability issues. Another good source is the National Council on Independent Living, ncil.org. Contact these groups and ask for help and advice.

For the business community to understand the impact from a marketing perspective, of the buying power of minorities with disabilities, and people with disabilities in general, an excellent contact is Carmen Jones, the CEO of Solutions Marketing Group at disability-marketing.com.

Partner with your local Chamber of Commerce to educate the members about today's unemployment situation for minorities with disabilities - after all, they hold the jobs that minorities with significant disabilities need. Ask the Chamber to write an article about this issue and bring in speakers to talk about this issue. Spread the word. Doris Carson Williams, the CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce in Pittsburgh, PA has a proven strategy in communicating this message to the community. Their website is aaccwp.com.

Work with the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the United States Department of Labor, www.dol.gov/odep and ask them to help you recruit this targeted population. The Office of Disability Employment Policy is working with various minority organizations such as the NAACP and ASPIRA and made commitments to work with minorities with significant disabilities in high schools on various programs. ODEP also has a partnership on-going with Howard University.

Finally, a suggestion to Corporate America is to see minorities and people with disabilities placed on corporate, for-profit boards. Wow! What a change this would create.

The employment of people with significant disabilities is worse today than it was in 2000; we have a national tragedy. It is even worse for minorities with disabilities as many of them are in poverty and do not have access to education as others do. We need to work together to make a difference by working with colleges, universities, minority affiliations and the church community. In the African American community, some of the most powerful leaders are the church leaders and we need to reach out to them also.

I am challenging you today, high schools, colleges, churches, and the business community to work to include minorities with significant disabilities in the workplace. I am challenging Human Resources Recruiters to refuse to be the "gate screeners", but instead open the doors to freedom for all.

Discrimination cannot be the reason that people of color are left out once again. We as a disability group must work together to be certain our brothers and sisters of color with disabilities are not left out.

Disability does not discriminate - people do.

For additional information, consult the following resources: African American Chamber of Commerce, www.aachamber.org, AAPD at www.AAPD.com , ASPIRA at www.aspira.org, Asian Chamber of Commerce at www.asianchamber.org, American Indian Chamber of Commerce at www.aico.org , Asian Pacific Chamber of Commerce at www.apca.org, INROADS at www.inroads.org, NAACP at www.naacp.org, National Urban League at www.nul.org, Office of Disability Employment Policy at www.dol.gov/odep, National Organization on Disability at www.nod.org, and Bender Consulting Services, Inc. at www.benderconsult.com.

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