[nfbwatlk] My Mom Wants People with Disabilities in the Workplace, Disability Blog, August 10 2015

Nightingale, Noel Noel.Nightingale at ed.gov
Tue Aug 11 18:19:14 UTC 2015


My Mom Wants People with Disabilities in the Workplace
[Angela M. Hooker, Accessibility Specialist, Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, U.S. General Services Administration]

By Guest Blogger Angela M. Hooker, Accessibility Specialist, Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, U.S. General Services Administration<http://www.gsa.gov/portal/category/100000>

The doctor should have listened to my mother.

I was barely a few months old, but my mother sensed that there was something wrong with my right eye. The doctor dismissed her as being an overprotective parent; however, she was correct. There was, in fact, something wrong with my eye. I was born with a benign pigmented growth on my optic nerve - well, as benign as it can be considering that I'm blind in my right eye.

Apparently, this is a somewhat strange and unique phenomenon because over the years when I'd go to different doctors - for ailments ranging from sore throats to sprained ankles to stomach viruses - they were fascinated not with the reason for my visit, but with what hindered my sight.

Some doctors and other people wanted and still want to discuss what they thought were limitations for me because of my eye. Enter my "overprotective" mom, again. My mother's persistence and determination that I would not think of myself as a victim or an object of pity made me realize that I was and am capable of doing what I want and not allowing my disabilities to limit my goals. Had she not instilled these beliefs in me, it would be hard not to be overcome with self-doubt or allow others to define my capabilities.

Actually, my partial blindness is one of several disabilities I have. Most of them are invisible and they include chronic diseases and acute conditions. These disabilities make working difficult, but not impossible. I'm fortunate because, in today's progressive workforce, I've been able to telework since 2001. However, many people who have disabilities cannot telework. In fact, many of us struggle to even find a job.

In 2015, 25 years after the historic signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, discrimination against people with disabilities still abounds. While there are more people with disabilities employed nowadays, their unemployment rate is 11 percent, which is more than double the national average for other people. Naturally, this means that many people with disabilities live below the poverty rate, and those numbers are higher than people who live without disabilities.

So, what can we do?
§  Create opportunities for diverse workplaces with atmospheres where people with disabilities don't have to worry about stigmas. They should feel comfortable at work and know that their colleagues will accept them as they are.
§  Educate ourselves about disability and employment laws. Sometimes employers fear breaking the law and lawsuits, and thus are reluctant to interview people with disabilities.
§  Make our workplaces accessible - in the attitude, technology and physical sense - to people with disabilities. These three elements will support productivity and efficiency for all employees.
§  Train our entire teams on disability etiquette, so they'll know how to interact with people with varying abilities, and conduct themselves and represent you in work situations.
§  Ensure that tools, including software and systems, are accessible so that employees can access them and complete their work in a timely manner. Workers should be able to work independently without relying on colleagues to assist them in ordinary, independent tasks.

Are we, through discrimination, fears and preconceptions, depriving our nation of the next Steve Wampler, Stevie Wonder, Stephen Hawking or Stephen Fry - all of whom have disabilities? Imagine our world without the art, skill and knowledge that they bring and contribute to our society. And there are even more dynamic and talented workers out there, and we should have the opportunity and privilege to engage and collaborate with them all in the workplace.

Thanks to my mother, I can. Because what mom wants, mom gets.
About the Guest Blogger

Angela M. Hooker is a senior accessibility specialist who manages inclusive design programs. She's brought her web management, development, accessibility, editorial and content management expertise to the private and government sectors for over 19 years. In addition to accessibility and universal design, Angela advocates for web standards and plain language. She writes articles and trains digital media teams on accessibility, and speaks on inclusive design/accessibility, web standards, user experience and plain language.

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