March: Indiana's Disabilities Awareness Month
March happens to be Indiana’s Disabilities Awareness Month, and it is an awareness campaign very near to my heart. In addition to my role at FullStack, I happen to serve on the Board of Directors of Tangram (www.thetangramway.com), an organization whose mission is to serve those with disabilities. But something that many people don’t know, or don’t think about, is whether or not disabled individuals can find and keep work.
Working with a disability is a huge key to independence, which is a vital part of an individual’s self-esteem. Most able-bodied and/or able-minded people can easily take that for granted. I know that I take for granted that my six year old will graduate high school, go to college and live on her own someday; but, unfortunately, I cannot assume those same things for my seven year old with high functioning autism and other developmental and behavioral disabilities.
So with March being the month of awareness here in Indiana, my Call to Action for you is this - Look around. Be aware of your surroundings. Do you currently employ individuals with disabilities of which you are aware? Do you have the workplace accessibility, for example, to have a person in a wheelchair gain access to your building? Once they gain access, can they use the restroom? Can they access the conference rooms? That is a good place to start, and the Americans with Disabilities Act dictates to employers what all is needed for those accommodations to begin with, so you’ll want to make sure if you answered “no” to any of those, that you’re looking at the requirements and may need to make changes.
But beyond that, have you ever considered hiring a person with an obvious disability? For example, a person with high functioning autism? Aside from filling an opening at your work and doing the right thing, there may be financial incentives as well involved. https://www.tangrambusinessresourcing.org/about is a good place to start to see if this would benefit you. SAP has had a program since 2013 that is targeted at hiring individuals with autism for their workforce, and you can read more about it here: https://www.cio.com/article/3013221/careers-staffing/how-sap-is-hiring-autistic-adults-for-tech-jobs.html.
At a minimum, if you perceive you don’t have a need that can be filled by an individual with a disability, explore the option to ensure your perception is correct. Many times we have misassumptions, and you are likely employing someone with an invisible disability about which you are not even aware (i.e. anxiety, bi-polar, depression). Basic HR 101 caveat: Whatever you do, don’t go around asking people if they have a disability about which you aren’t aware, but just be aware of your surroundings and your people and most of the time, you will find these things out as time goes on. Always be looking for ways to tap into under-utilized resources, of which individuals with disabilities - physical or mental, visible or invisible - are one of the largest pools.