By Tyler Matney, Project Manager
Most of us who work in the disability field or have a friend or family member with a disability who is seeking employment, are aware of the difficulties that people with disabilities have in getting a job. Let’s take a look at the stats.
The unemployment rate of people with disabilities in the U.S. has decreased slightly since the Great Recession – moving from a little under 12% in May 2009 to 11.2% in May 2015. That may sound like good news, and it is. But, it’s not great news. That May 2015 rate is still over twice as high as the average unemployment rate of those without disabilities. Also, between May 2014 and May 2015, the average labor force participation rate (or those in the U.S. actually seeking employment) was a mere 19.8% for workers with disabilities compared to 68.6% of those without a disability—nearly a 50% difference. That means that about 4.4 million workers with disabilities only account for about 3% percent of the approximately 141 million workers in the U.S.
So, what about the other 97% of people with disabilities in our country who are not employed? Are they simply unemployable? Of course, some people are truly unable to work. But, 97%—I don’t believe it.
What many studies reveal and what is reported time and time again by both employers and people with disabilities working or seeking work is that it is all about attitudes. Employers often assume the person with a disability can’t do the job. I’ve had friends with disabilities tell me that in interviews they were never asked how they could perform a particular task. Some have told me that as soon as they entered the room they could tell by the employer’s reaction that they were not going to get the job. Some have told me that they were asked two or three questions and nothing specific about the job and never heard from the employer again. I’ve also spoken with many employers and recruiters who have told me that they just don’t see how a person with a disability can do the job. My go to question is, “Have you asked them?” and many of them have said, “Well, come to think of it, not really.” And, therein lies much of the issue.
So, I challenge you—jobseekers with disabilities and employers seeking good candidates. First, I challenge all you jobseekers to prepare yourselves. Make sure you know the job tasks and be prepared to discuss them in interviews—continually drive the conversation to the job tasks and how you would perform them. Second, I challenge employers to ask interviewees with disabilities how they would perform the tasks for your job openings. Focus on their qualifications, experience, and potential instead of letting your preconceived notions veer you off course.
The goal of this challenge is not just simply to increase the employment rate of people with disabilities. It’s bigger than that. It’s to create a win-win for employers seeking good talent and jobseekers seeking a good job. Ultimately, the challenge here is to take advantage of all of the talent in our U.S. workforce and match them with the appropriate businesses to drive our economy, our innovation and our global leadership. I hope you take it.
Tyler Matney brings over 15 years of experience in the disability employment field and currently manages the AbleData project.
nTIDE Jobs Report: Americans with Disabilities Continue to Enter the Workforce, retrieved on 9/2/2015.