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Becoming more intentional about disability employment

Written on Oct 29, 2020

By Abigail Draper, OSCPA communication & engagement manager

This year is the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act and 75th anniversary celebrating October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Despite celebrating these milestones and recognizing advancements that have been made in disability employment, an expert says more still needs to be done.  

“As employers become more thoughtful regarding disability inclusive hiring, advocates remain frustrated as the disability employment percentage has not moved significantly up or down in the last 30 years,” said TyKiah Wright, founder and managing director of WrightChoice Consulting Group.

Wright said she became passionate about disability employment through personal experience – when she was struggling to land a job that was commensurate with her education after obtaining her master’s degree. 

“I also realized that when I walked into interviews the intersections of my identity - an African American female with a disability [She uses a wheelchair for mobility.] – silently generated interviewer questions that unfortunately went unanswered and unconscious biases were unaddressed,” she said. “As a result, I did not receive the job offer.” 

Wright shared strategies businesses can use to be intentional about disability employment and inclusion before, during and after the hiring process. 

She said if you’re looking to include people with disabilities in your organization, reviewing your marketing strategy is key to sending a message of belonging. 

“People with disabilities are an untapped market segment,” Wright said. “A picture says a thousand words. In order to attract people with disabilities to your workforce, workplace and marketplace, employers must be intentional about inclusive marketing.” 

She said one tip is to use authentic disability images instead of non-disabled models. For example, if you see a stock image of an actor sitting in a metal hospital-style wheelchair in one image and standing in others. 

When it comes to getting a job, she said one of the biggest barriers for people with disabilities is lack of employer education and training. 

“Many people are uncomfortable with communicating and engaging people with physical disabilities,” Wright said. “Ongoing sensitivity and awareness training is key to removing barriers to inclusion.” 

Inclusive environments are also fostered when leaders speak openly about topics such as mental health, Wright said. When they encourage authentic conversations without judgment, employees are empowered to bring their full selves to work and perform at their peak. 

Driving disability inclusion starts with asking leaders hard questions such as: 

  • What are we doing to be inclusive of the internal and external disability community?
  • What partnerships have been developed in the community to drive disability recruiting?
  • How are we marketing to this community? 

If individuals and organizations continue to ask questions and implement inclusive strategies, Wright hopes disability employment will eventually mirror the recruitment efforts seen with other diverse communities. 

“Be bold, be brave, become an ally, ask hard questions, and actively listen and learn.” 

Learn more about National Disability Employment Awareness Month from the U.S. Department of Labor. And learn more about diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace through our Crossing Bridges Series and other DE&I services and initiatives