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Alberto Cairo– Helping the Disabled Find Dignity

15 Feb

So very much worth a few minutes of your time to watch this TED video. Alberto is helping people find meaning and dignity in their life. Inspiring.

Saving One Star Fish: Employing People with Disabilities

27 Oct

I had the pleasure of being part of a Rotary Club in Omaha, Nebraska. For the last several years we’ve had an annual award we call the “Able Workplace”, which recognizes employers that are doing an effective job of hiring individuals with disabilites. We started the award to shed light on a significant problem– the unemployment and underemployment of persons with disabilities.

Truth be said, as a society we do a rather terrible job of including the disabled in the workplace. According to a  study released this summer, the unemployment and underemployment of individuals with disabilities is 80% higher than the rest of the population.


To address this, we thought it would be worthwhile to highlight companies that are doing a good job of bringing the disabled into their place of work. We thought if we could shed some light on these companies that we could learn from them and perhaps inspire other companies.

This year we recongized a company that had hired a young man who has been diagnosed on the autism spectrum. He likes to work with computers, and the social services agency that has been working with him thought he might work out doing data entry for this company.

He initally failed the typing test they require, but he was pretty close to passing, so the supervisor invited him to come back the next week. He passed the second time and was employed.

It’s worked out wonderfully.

A couple of things worth noting. This young man, previous to being employed with this company, didn’t have a job and had been languishing at home. What was waste, that a person who could meaningfully contribute was sitting at home for months.

The other thing of note was the company president, when being notified about this recognition from our club for working with this young man, didn’t even know he had a disability! He said to me: “I’ve met him a few times in the hallway and break room, and he just seemed like everyone else around here”.

Just like everyone else.

Yes, folks with disabilities may be a bit different, but they probably have more in common with the rest of us than we realize. Just like us, they want meaningful work that adds value to their employer. They want to be paid fairly for their labor.

They want a chance.

There’s a story about a young girl on a beach throwing starfish back in the ocean. They’ll die if they aren’t returned to the ocean, and the beach is littered with them. A man walking by sees the girl. He asks her: “There are so many star fish. How can you expect to make a difference?” She picked up another star fish, threw it back in the ocean and turned to him and said: “I made a difference for that one.”

None of us can help everyone who is disabled find meaningful employment. But the company we honored this week made a difference for one person. For one good person who just needed a opportunity to show their talents.

Who else out there is ready to make a difference for one “star fish”?

(photo courtesy of stock.exchng)

Disability Doesn’t Mean Inability—Paul’s Story

18 Aug

In junior high I spent many a Saturday morning in a bowling league at our local alley. On the lanes adjacent to our league was a league for individuals with disabilities. They were a generally likable bunch. We often said our hellos and cheered for each other when someone did well. They also were kind in consoling me when I threw yet another embarrassing gutter ball.

One of the regulars in that bowling league was Paul. I don’t believe Paul could keep score in bowling, could hold a conversation beyond a few basic words, or read the sentence I’m writing. Paul had a profound cognitive disability.

But there is one thing I can attest to about Paul—he was a extraordinary bowler.

Paul was a delight to watch. His approach to the pins was graceful and smooth, and the ball seemed to explode out of his hand toward its target. When his ball hit the pins there was a deafening sound, a shatter, which echoed through the whole place. It seemed like the pins knew better than resist, and went scurrying to the gutter.

One Saturday Paul was really “on a roll”. He bowled one strike, then another, yet another, and then another. I noticed several people watching this display. Nobody cared Paul had a disability. What counted was that Paul could take up a bowling ball and perform a difficult task, and do so with excellence. And his audience found it worth their time to watch his handiwork.

I’m grateful for folks in that league. And I’m particularly grateful for Paul, because he taught me an exceptionally important lesson—disability doesn’t mean inability.

Yes, Paul was disabled. But he also had a talent.

He could bowl, could do so superbly, better than most. And I’d bet there are other things Paul could do. I’d wager each of the members of that league had some skill or ability that could be put to good use.

I think of Paul as we struggle to hire individuals with disabilities. The unemployment and underemployment of persons with disabilities is staggeringly high, several times the rate of the so-called able-bodied population. And according to government statistics this community has been penalized even more in the recession, losing jobs at a higher rate and when employed at a far lower wage.

I wonder if one of the problems we have in hiring people like Paul is because we only see disability; we don’t look for or see the talents or skills or potential that may be there.

We only see what the Paul’s of the world can’t do, versus what they can do.

A car dealership I know hired a young man who is on the autism spectrum. As is the case with many individuals with this disability, he was a compulsive type, who liked things neat and orderly and clean. The dealership trained him to be a detailer, preparing cars for customers. After a few weeks on the job his manager remarked: “He’s the best detailer we’ve ever had. Customers love how he takes care of their car.”

Another company I know has been hiring disabled employees for years. Compared to peer groups this cohort of disabled employees  stay longer, are absent less, and even use less health benefits.  And the cost, on average, to make “reasonable accommodations” so these employees can be successful contributors? About a hundred bucks.

Kudos to these employers.

They look beyond disability and see an opportunity where good people can contribute, can add value, and like my bowling pal Paul, can do something very, very well. I’d bet there are many more opportunities for employers to secure the talents of folks who may be disabled, but who can, like Paul, bowl a perfect game.

Debunking Myths of Employing People With Disabilities

19 Aug


A new brochure from the US Department of Labor provides useful information about hiring individuals with disabilities. It does a nice job of  factually reporting certain “myths”, including that reasonable accommodations mandated by the ADA law are costly (they aren’t, most cost nothing) and that you have to learn a different way of managing the disabled (you don’t, just manage well).

You can find a link to the brochure at

Expectation + Opportunity = Full Participation

17 Aug


From Aspen Publishers:

“Expectation + Opportunity = Full Participation” is the official theme for October’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), announced the US Department of Labor (DOL) on June 26, 2009. NDEAM is intended to urge employers, as they seek to fill positions, to embrace the richness of America’s diversity by considering the talents of all workers, including workers with disabilities.

Bravo for this unique theme, one that I do hope highlights what individuals with disabilities to do to contribute productively to our places of work.

If you think that hiring the disabled is to hard or will be too expensive or won’t address some of your current staffing challenges… think again.

Thank You, Mrs. Eunice Kennedy Shriver

15 Aug


One of the great advocates for the disabled, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, died this week. Her accomplishments are detailed in a post from The— here are a few highlights:

Eunice Kennedy Shriver 

died on Tuesday leaving behind a legacy that rivals that of her famous politician brothers.Not only was she the visionary behind the Special Olympics, but her lifelong advocacy for the mentally disabled also laid the groundwork for the single most important children’s rights legislation in education: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Shriver’s passion for the disabled grew from her close relationship with her intellectually challenged older sister, Rosemary. After witnessing her sister’s sharp decline and placement into a mental heath facility following a lobotomy, Shriver was set on a course to change the lives of the disabled worldwide.

If it were not for her tireless efforts, many disabled would like still be holed away in institutions, with no education or opportunity to live in the community.

As the father of a special needs child, I am grateful for her leadership in raising the profile of individuals with disabilities and helping us learn that the disabled can make meaningful contributions to our world and live joyful lives.

We do have a long way to go, but it is hard to imagine how much further behind we would be without Mrs. Shriver.

Supporting Employment Of The Disabled

14 Feb


A new program to support the employment of individuals with disabilities is being launched in New York State, according to a New York Times post:

The School of Industrial and Labor Relations’ Employment and Disability Institute is collaborating on the project “New York Makes Work Pay,” which plans to make finding employment easier for disabled people. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services is sponsoring the initiative. Collaborators with the EDI include New York State Most Integrated Settings Coordinating Council’s Employment Committee, the New York State Office of Mental Health and Syracuse University’s Burton Blatt Institute, according to the Cornell Chronicle.

In the state of New York, there are over 1 million residents between the ages of 21 and 64 that have at least one disability according to the EDI’s 2007 Disability Status Report. While 78 percent of non-disabled New York residents in that age group are employed, only 34 percent of New Yorkers with disabilities have jobs.

In the short-term, the project is working to inform disabled people of their options. Golden explained that the project will create a website to make public the information disabled people need in order to return to work. One current issue Golden mentioned was that many disabled people incorrectly believe that returning to work would compromise their current health care plan. Since they do not understand the rules they elect to avoid any risk by not returning to work.

I wish the program managers well in this endeavor. It’s sad that the unemployment/underemployment of the disabled is so high. Studies show that the retention, productivity, absenteeism and health care claim activity of the disabled is on par, or better, than peer groups. As employers, we may be missing out on a group of talented people who could add value to our companies.

Disabled Unemployment Rate

6 Feb


I’d like to call your attention to a serious labor and social problem– the unemployment/underemployment of the disabled. The report published at Occupational Safety & Health Online gives the numbers:

The Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy released the first employment and unemployment data on Americans with disabilities this morning. This began a monthly data series that “will assist the nation in understanding how changing labor market conditions affect Americans with disabilities. Although it is widely believed that this group typically faces a higher rate of unemployment than individuals without disabilities, official estimates were not available until now,” the DOL news release said.

This morning’s release showed the unemployment rate for disabled Americans in January 2009, 13.2 percent, was 59 percent higher than the unemployment rate for non-disabled Americans in the same month, 8.3 percent.

“Now that so many Americans are suffering job losses, there is a tremendous amount of attention being paid to employment problems and solutions affecting the general population. Americans with disabilities typically experience similar employment difficulties, even when there is a robust economy. The economic downturn may just exacerbate their struggle. These data will go far toward efforts to increase the employment of people with disabilities,” John Davey, deputy assistant secretary for ODEP, said in the release today.

Are we missing an opportunity to hire people who are ready and able to work? As  the category of this blog post admonishes: Disability Isn’t Inability.