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Wednesday, February 20 , 2019, 10:19 pm | Overcast 49º


Tom Donohue: Workers with Disabilities Are an Untapped Resource

Companies that employ inclusive hiring practices now are positioning themselves for success later

It’s hard to imagine with 8.8 percent unemployment that America soon will be facing a worker shortage as 77 million baby-boomers begin retiring. Many businesses already face a skills shortage, unable to find qualified workers for positions that are open. There is a great untapped resource, however, to which these businesses can turn — individuals with disabilities.

Unfortunately, too many employers are not aware of the pool of qualified workers with disabilities, do not know how to reach them, and are concerned about the perceived costs and challenges of providing accommodations.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Leadership Network, now called USBLN, hosted a conference last week to highlight employer best practices in hiring and accommodating workers with disabilities. USBLN is a national organization that helps build workplaces where people with disabilities are respected for their talents. I was honored to chair this organization in the 1990s.

At the event, many companies shared their success stories about employing and advancing people with disabilities, marketing to consumers with disabilities, and contracting with companies owned by people with disabilities to the benefit of their bottom lines.

These and other employers know that employees with disabilities are generally dependable, dedicated, hardworking and productive. Companies that take a lead in hiring people with disabilities are positioning themselves for success when worker and skills shortages will make diversity and inclusion programs a necessity rather than a choice.

Keynote speaker Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said that since the start of the recession, adults with disabilities are leaving the labor force at greater than 10 times the rate of adults without disabilities. He urged the business community to increase the number of Americans with disabilities in the work force from 4.9 million today to 6 million in 2015.

To meet that goal, we need to increase education and awareness, removing stereotypes and misperceptions about people with disabilities. Groups such as USBLN, with its 60 affiliates representing 5,000 employers nationwide, are changing attitudes every day.

We also need to make certain that laws and regulations are conducive to inclusive hiring practices. The Americans with Disabilities Act has always enjoyed broad bipartisan support, and we are particularly proud of the role that the business community played in 2008 when Congress passed amendments to ensure that people with disabilities have a fair chance to excel in the workplace and clarified the obligations and requirements of employers.

Let’s see if we can not only meet but exceed Sen. Harkin’s challenge. It’s a good thing to do, and it’s good for business.

— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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