Government has an opportunity to make workplaces more disability-inclusive.
In my home state of Kansas, there is proposed state legislation that will have a public hearing this week. It would require government agencies to provide employment preference to their state-funded employment positions, while giving access to reasonable accommodations essential to making the positions equitable.
Let my workplace experience and four photos illustrate why the government needs to be more inclusive of those of us with disabilities.
My Photo Story
The top left photo is a close up of me pointing to my right ear and holding a sign that reads, “Sign language helps me to understand you.”
The top right photo is another close up with me holding my set of royal blue hearing aids and this sign: “These help me to hear you.”
The bottom left photo includes the blue hearing aids on top of this sign: “It took me two years before I’d let this much of myself show.”
In the lower right photo, I hold a cell phone to my right ear, the ear in which I have the best hearing with hearing aids. The sign I hold reads, “Hearing aid compatible phones and mobile captioning services help me to hear and understand voices on my phone.”
As these photos depict, I rely on many tools to be able to hear. These are tools I depend on as a disabled employee in the workforce.
My Work Story
As a person with hearing loss and a former special education teacher for the state of Kansas, there was no such law to provide employment preference when I began applying for jobs. I was also not made aware of reasonable accommodations when I applied for various teaching positions. After being hired as a teacher, this put an enormous burden on my shoulders to prove that I was capable of performing all the responsibilities of the job, while advocating for access to appropriate workplace accommodations.
Spoiler alert: I left the teaching field a couple of years ago due to the enormous challenges that I faced with inaccessibility at work.
My Advocacy Mission
I serve on the board for the Kansas Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. My work involves advocating for rights within the community and workplace for people who cannot hear.
Workplace support and accommodations from an employer are vital in the success of my work endeavors. This includes advocating for accommodation needs on the job as well as promoting an inclusive work culture for all employees with disabilities and training for everyone about disability inclusion.
It takes a collaborative effort to have an accessible work experience.
According to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, regulations require that covered federal contractors and subcontractors take proactive steps to recruit and retain workers with disabilities. Since this is a requirement for businesses that work with the government, it is important that state government positions be disability-inclusive to set this example for other businesses.
One of the concerns may be the cost of providing accommodations to employees with disabilities. According to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), employers participating in the annual JAN survey reported a high percentage (56%) of accommodations cost nothing to implement ($0), while the rest of the accommodations made had a typical cost of $500. The $500 cost has been consistent across the many years of the JAN survey research findings.
Research shows that people with disabilities have higher levels of problem-solving skills, memory and dependability. Harvard Business Review conducted research that revealed adults with various disabilities, such as autism or other types of neurodiversity, may possess higher-than-average abilities in memory, mathematics and pattern recognition. Employees with intellectual disabilities, according to research from the Institute for Corporate Productivity, are rated high for their dependability (89%), engagement (88%), integration with co-workers (87%) and attendance (84%).
Back to my home state of Kansas. Proposed legislation would allow people with disabilities applying for government positions to have employment preference because of their disabilities as well as the guarantee that reasonable accommodations are provided to successfully do their jobs.
An accessible work experience takes a village. It is not only up to ME … but WE.
How does your state government promote disability inclusion?
Congrats on all the work you are doing as an advocate. I’m proud of you!
Thank you, RJ. Appreciate your support.