Tuesday, November 22, 2011

End the bias on hiring people with disabilities

The unemployment rate is 70.5% among Michigan's more than 730,000 people with disabilities ages 18 to 64.

Obviously, Michigan can't underutilize half a million people and not suffer the consequences. People with disabilities must be part of Michigan's competitive strategy -- they need opportunities to work.

Unfortunately, employing people with disabilities is hard, because our prejudices keep messing with our ability to act in our own self-interest. In this economy, that's a big negative, and in Michigan it's getting bigger. Disability discrimination complaints have overtaken gender-based complaints and are now 20% of complaints filed with the state Department of Civil Rights, second only to race.

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Most people with a disability would love to work.  Unfortunately, employers are not interested in thinking outside the box.

I was tops in my field.  I applied for a job where it was slipped that I was the front-runner for the position.  Then they mentioned that every now and again, I would have to drive somewhere to drop off some papers.  I don't drive, but mentioned that I knew a really good courier service -- they do the non-productive driving, I stay at my desk producing more value than their bill costs.  Over something that was less than 1% of the job duties, for which there was an easy solution, I lost the job.  They suddenly added "must speak Chinese" to the qualifications to justify hiring someone else, because that was a skill I don't have, so if I sued, they could argue I was not qualified for the job.

If you don't drive, the first thing that comes to most people's minds is epilepsy, and the fear that you'll injure yourself falling to the floor or embarrass the employer by having a seizure in front of clients.  That's not my reason for not driving, but people don't ask, they just assume.



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