Section 503 of The Rehabilitation Act, affirmative action for people with disabilities is here and will be implemented in March of 2014. These new regulations include a 7% hiring goal in all job groups, new processes for self-identification and recordkeeping, but most importantly represent a great opportunity for Americans with disabilities, and for federal contractors and subcontractors. Federal contractors know that their greatest assets are their employees. Without a productive and engaged staff, profits and stock prices will plummet. The gears that enable a company to move in the direction of success are the employees; these gears are either well-oiled or they are rusty.
People with disabilities have the skills and competencies that businesses need. But, there are far too many myths out there about people with disabilities. These old perceptions began prior to people with disabilities graduating from colleges, universities, technical schools and vocational schools.
This reminds me of perceptions about my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. People who have visited the city over 30 years ago or who have never visited, still envision Pittsburgh as a smoky steel town with ashes and soot on rooftops.
In fact, Pittsburgh is a beautiful city with leading industries in biotechnology, home to one of the best health systems in the nation, a Hollywood film-making treasure, and a region with many leading academic institutions including Carnegie Mellon University. But, if you have never visited our city, you may still see us in "old glasses."
I find the same “old glasses” view applies to many employers’ perceptions of people with disabilities. They think people with disabilities are an isolated group of people with poor social skills; others see people with disabilities as sick people who will miss work, and who do not have the necessary academic skills needed to do their jobs. Many see hiring people with disabilities as "forced charity."
Now for the truth…people with disabilities do have a social life and have their own disability youth culture; people with disabilities have one of the highest attendance records of all employee groups, and have degrees in engineering, mathematics, computer science, and other technical disciplines. Many people with disabilities have graduated from prestigious law schools.
As people with disabilities, we want paychecks, not pity. We represent an untapped labor pool of talent, who will increase profitability and production with employees based on our skills, education and attendance record.
Walgreens, a champion of employment for people with disabilities, said they saw such great results in their distribution center that hired people with disabilities. They attributed this to the talent and performance of their associates with disabilities, but also to the increase in employee engagement of other associates. Increased employee engagement means more teamwork and a spirit of excitement about work – this translates to higher levels of performance.
People with disabilities come to the table with traits that employers seek. As a woman living with epilepsy, I learned quickly how to "think outside the box "after losing my driver’s license after having a seizure. In Pennsylvania the law requires a six-month seizure-free time period, prior to reinstating a driver’s license. Talk about learning to "think outside the box”; I had to figure out how to get to work and elsewhere every day.
People with disabilities have learned to be tolerant, flexible, patient and are team players; we understand the value of working together more than most people. We are very grateful to the person who hires us.
The Section 503 affirmative action goals will allow us as employers to get better results at work.
Our community wants to work…to have dignity… and we will not disappoint you.