Research News @Vanderbilt – New research documents how COVID-19 multiplies stress and trauma for people with disabilities

The COVID-19 pandemic has induced stress in everyone this year, but for those marginalized by disabilities, and especially those already dealing with social inequity and poverty, the pandemic has dealt additional blows.

DisabilityStatistics@disabilitystats·“As disabled people and scholars ourselves, we noticed that the disability community… [was] being uniquely impacted by the pandemic'” – Find new research out of @VanderbiltU here –

12/16/2020 2PM–National Webinar with Ohio Presenter–Learning and Leading: Service Delivery to Job Seekers in a Virtual Environment

**CLICK ON LINK JUST BELOW TO SIGN UP FOR 12/26/2020 2PM VIRTUAL WEBINAR WITH PRESENTER FROM OHIO–Area 14 Workforce Development Board, Athens, Meigs, Perry Counties**

Learning and Leading: Service Delivery to Job Seekers in a Virtual Environment

WorkforceGPS is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (ETA).



Wednesday, December 16, 2020 2:00 PM ~ 3:30 PM ET

With the decreased ability to deliver in-person services during the COVID-19 pandemic, workforce and training organizations have met this challenge through delivering online services.  This webinar will highlight promising practices and feature organizations that have successfully used virtual platforms to deliver workforce development services to jobseekers.  


This webinar follows the kick-off Learning and Leading Recovery webinar held on November 18, that presented the important role the workforce system has in supporting job seekers and businesses through the economic recovery from the pandemic.


Eric Nelson, Director, Office of Special Initiatives and Demonstrations, U. S. Department of Labor,  Employment and Training Administration


Michele Martin, Senior Associate, New Start Career Network, John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development

Laurie McKnight, Director, Area 14 Workforce Development Board, Athens, Meigs, Perry Counties (Ohio)

Demetria “Lynn” Strickland, Executive Director, Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee (AJAC)

Yahoo Finance – How autonomous vehicles are changing the future of accessibility

Please See Below:

*Link to Video First

*Next Written Transcript

Yahoo Finance Video

How autonomous vehicles are changing the future of accessibility

Thu, December 3, 2020, 3:34 PM EST

The Sight Tech Global conference is a virtual non-profit event that brings together the top technologists working on AI-related technologies that are having a huge impact on accessibility, especially for the blind and visually impaired. TechCrunch Editor and Reporter Kristen Korosec spoke Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired CEO Bryan Bashin, Foundation for Blind Children CEO Marc Ashton and Waymo Product Manager Clem Wright about how autonomous vehicles are changing the future of accessibility.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Let’s talk now about the future of accessibility for the differently abled. Our friends over at TechCrunch spoke to the nonprofit Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired about how self-driving cars are going to be impacting accessibility. Take a listen.

– As a blind person myself, I can’t independently get into a car and drive. So right now, I have to get into TNC with a person who may or may not have a status with COVID. Autonomous vehicles offer the chance to have no COVID exposure. That’s going to be with us for a few years. So I think first and foremost, that’s what people think of. And there are a couple of other advantages.

Despite what we like to say, there is still a lot of discrimination against the now almost 10,000 blind Americans who use guide dogs. Autonomous vehicles will not have that discrimination. Anyone gets in the vehicle. And maybe most profoundly, there’s a kind of deeper social equity.

Sometimes we just don’t– as blind people, we don’t want another person to be in our business. We want to just go somewhere. We don’t have to answer questions. We just want to get there, be independent. And so, that equity of being able to go, just like anybody else on a mission, is really profound and will be a huge advance.

KRISTIN MYERS: Marc, I’m wondering what your viewpoint is. Are there accessibility barriers that you think that autonomous vehicles are in a unique position to remove?

MARC ASHTON: I think with all technology, you know, when we have first speech– text to speech software, it was, you know, clunky and what have you. But technology has brought it leaps and bounds over the last couple of decades. And I think with autonomous vehicles, the technology is going to move very quickly. And any problems that do come up with accessibility, I think that technology will be able to solve.

I mean, it’s the ability for just putting the features that some of these autonomous vehicles are doing, which is like a beeping– the ability of the rider to beep the car’s horn so they could find the vehicle, for the Braille inside the vehicle, for the vehicle to explain to the rider where they are at any given time, how far they are to the distance. All that is progressive. So they keep adding these features as they get feedback from riders, but also, just from the community in general.

And a lot of those features, to be quite frank, are just as helpful for sighted people. Being able to find your car by touching the button on your iPhone is pretty global. And so, [INAUDIBLE] great. And I think one of the most of things about autonomous vehicles is just the safety factor, just the, you really aren’t getting in a car with a stranger, you know? And we all love ride hailing, and it’s been a great transformation.

But you’re still getting in a car with a stranger. And some people, that’s very uncomfortable with. And they don’t know that person that you can’t– especially if you’re visually impaired, they can’t identify that person later. And so, I think it’s a very– non-driver could be a big safety factor.

KIRSTEN KOROSEC: So why don’t you, then, walk us through the– how Waymo has approached, not just the design of its vehicle, but importantly, also, the ride hailing app, which is known as Waymo One in the Chandler area, but to make it accessible to all user groups, and in this case, specifically for blind and low vision users.

CLEM WRIGHT: Sure. Yeah, that’s a great list [INAUDIBLE] and definitely a number of things that we’ve talked about and you and I have discussed as well.

– Yes

CLEM WRIGHT: So, we do think of– our overall approach is not to think of, here are a couple of features that we’re going to build just for low vision users or for users with other disabilities. It’s about thinking about the entire user journey from the first time you install the app and start onboarding with Waymo, to getting dropped off at your destination and every step in between, and thinking about what the needs are at those different points in the journey. And different people are going to have different needs. And we want to make sure we meet those throughout.

So, a number of things that Brian called out, like finding the car at pickup, finding the destination and drop-off, really massive challenges. And we found that in– by doing user research with users with a diverse– diverse abilities, we’re able to pick out certain needs and build certain features that then help everyone.

So for example, the honking the horn feature that Marc called out, this was something that we did build. We were more originally, hey, this is something that we know that low vision users are going to need. So we built this out, and we tested it. And we actually were running a separate usability study, a totally different feature, for all sighted users in this study. And they were trying to find the car pick-up, just as part of the flow.

And we accidentally left the honk horn feature on. It was just a prototype phase at that point. And the person– so I was like, oh, I need to find the car. They honked the horn, and the car was pulled up around the back of the hotel where we were testing.

And it was a huge lightbulb moment for me, where it was like, oh, yeah, obviously, this is going to be helpful for everyone. And we’ve seen that time and again in a number of different features we’ve built, where we’ll think of more extreme needs that people with disabilities may face and brainstorm features around them, but then realized, hey, this is something that affects everyone.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD)12/03/2020–Commemorative Event 12/04/2020–11 am-12:45 pm EST

International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), 3 December 2020

IDPD 2020

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) is annually observed on 3 December to promote the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities and to take action for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in all aspects of society and development.

This year, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities will be commemorated throughout the week of 30 November- 4 December in conjunction with the 13th session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

The theme this year is “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World”.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Commemorative Event for IDPD 2020: Action Toward a Disability-Inclusive, Accessible and Sustainable Post-COVID-19 World”
4 December 2020 (11.00 am-12:45 pm EST)

The event will include representatives of Member States, UN offices, organizations of persons with disabilities, civil society, and the private sector. It will emphasize the importance of disability-inclusive responses to COVID-19 and take stock of progress in “building back better,” including addressing the global policy framework on disability-inclusive development newly adopted by the General Assembly Third Committee this past November. The event will also address the tools of the UN system. These include hose developed for the UN Disability Inclusion Strategy, the United Nations Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNWomen and the World Bank. It will also focus on important steps taken by civil society and the private sector to “build back better” in a disability-inclusive manner.

Draft Agenda

Co-Moderators: Mr. Gopal Mitra, Senior Officer, Disability Team (EOSG) and Ms. Abia Akram, Chair, Asia Pacific Forum on Women and Girls with Disabilities (Civil Society)

Global Action: Strengthening the international framework on disability-inclusive development: disability-inclusive response to Covid-19 and “Building Back Better Toward an Inclusive, Accessible and Sustainable Post-COVID-19 World

  • Introduction: Under-Secretary-General Ms. Ana Maria Menendez, EOSG.
  • President of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, E. Minister Luis Gallegos, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ecuador (Ecuador)
  • Third Committee Resolution on Inclusive Development for and with Persons with Disabilities/ E. Ambassador Enrique A. Manalo, Permanent Representative, PM of Philippines
  • H.E. Ambassador Kennedy Gastorn, Permanent Representative, PM of Tanzania
  • The Co-Chairs of the Group of Friends of Persons with Disabilities (Mexico and New Zealand), H.E. Ambassador Juan Sandoval, Deputy Permanent Representative, PM of Mexico

Video “ON DISPLAY GLOBAL short compilation 2020” by Heidi Latsky Dance

Vision for Action on the Ground: Tools for Building Back Better Toward an Inclusive, Accessible and Sustainable Post-COVID-19 World:

  • Next steps for the implementation of the UN Disability Inclusion Strategy, the EOSG Mr. Gopal Mitra, Senior Officer, Disability Team (EOSG)
  • UNWomen A.H. Monjurul Kabir, Global Adviser, UN Coordination, Gender Equality and Disability Inclusion/Intersectionality, UN Women
  • United Nations Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD): Ola Abualghaib, Technical Secretariat for the UN Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD) Multi-Donor Trust Fund (MDTF)
  • World Bank Charlotte V. McClain-Nhlapo, Global Disability Advisor, World Bank
  • Civil Society/organizations of persons with disabilities: Hannes Juhlin Lagrelius, World Blind Union, Co-chair, General Assembly of Partners-PCG Persons with Disabilities (representative of civil society/organizations of persons with disabilities)
  • Private Sector/Foundations: Yosuke Ishikawa, Nippon Foundation

Respondent: Mr. Cabra de Luna Miguel Angel, EESC Observer to the UNTFSSE, to provide his comments concerning the presentations.

Concept Note

Register here for the event



United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy (UNDIS)
The UNDIS provides the foundation for sustainable and transformative progress on disability inclusion through all pillars of the work of the United Nations: peace and security, human rights, and development. The Strategy enables the UN system to support the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and other international human rights instruments, as well as the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, the Agenda for Humanity, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

FYI: Free Workshop Series: Community Conversations with Al Condeluci

Community Conversations  
Hosted by The Center for Disability Empowerment  
The Center for Disability Empowerment (CDE) is pleased to offer a series of free workshops designed to explore ways to help communities to become more inclusive and welcoming to all of its citizens. Studies show that people who have important relationships in their lives are happier, healthier, safer and achieve more in life. We know that vulnerable people including elders, people with disabilities and economically disadvantaged people have less social capital and are at great risk for social isolation.These virtual trainings will examine social capital and explore ways for communities to help people build more opportunities for relationships. We encourage community leaders, businesses, civic organizations, schools, faith-based communities, individuals with disabilities and their families to join us for this important discussion!  Attached you will find a flyer with more information on each session and registration links.  
-Susan Hetrick, Executive Director
The Center for Disability Empowerment 
(Click here for Registration) Al Condeluci Event Series Flyer

COMMUNITY CONVERSATIONS: Building Inclusive Communities:


Link To Center For Disability Empowerment:

Webinar 12/03/2020 – Registered Apprenticeship: Job Seekers with Disabilities Please Apply!

Registered Apprenticeship: Job Seekers with Disabilities Please Apply!

Thursday, December 03, 2020 — 3:00pm – 4:00pm ET

BACKGROUND: With funding from the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) at the U.S. Department of Labor, LEAD Center is continuing its work (a) to promote equal opportunity within the broader workforce system for youth and adults with disabilities; (b) to advance the development of inclusive career pathways using the interactive Road to Inclusive Career Pathways on the LEAD website; (c) to support economic advancement and financial literacy for youth and adults with disabilities; and (d) to provide up-to-date data to the field on employment and related outcomes for people with disabilities.

Led by Social Policy Research Associates(link is external) and National Disability Institute(link is external), the LEAD Center – known formally as the National Center on Leadership for the Employment and Economic Advancement of People with Disabilities (LEAD) – brings together a range of organizations, thought leaders, and best-practice innovators to expand policy, employment, leadership, and economic advancement opportunities and outcomes for all people with disabilities.

Webinar: Registered Apprenticeship: Job Seekers with Disabilities Please Apply!
Thursday, December 3, 3:00-4:00 P.M. EDT
Apprenticeship is an industry-driven, high-quality career pathway where employers can develop and prepare their future workforce, and individuals can obtain paid work experience, classroom instruction, mentorship, and a portable credential. For job seekers with disabilities, apprenticeship offers a model that promotes on-the-job learning and program supports that can offer a viable pathway to a well-paying career.

This webinar will offer an introduction to registered apprenticeship. We will share what distinguishes apprenticeships from other types of work-based learning, explore the benefits for all stakeholders, share different models, and highlight promising programs from the field. We’ll be joined by Mitchell Harp and Melissa Stowasser from Trident Technical College in Charleston, SC, and Cindy Lennon from Able-Disabled Advocacy in San Diego, CA.

Participants will learn:
*How registered apprenticeship benefits individuals, employers, and programs
*What comprises the essential components of an apprenticeship program
*How to differentiate apprenticeship from other work-based learning models
*How to locate apprenticeship programs available in their region and make referrals
Join us for the webinar:
Registered Apprenticeship: Job Seekers with Disabilities Please Apply!
Thursday, December 3, 2020, 3:00-4:00 P.M. EDT

FYI: NCD Report on AbilityOne federal employment program and Printed & Audio Congressional Staff Briefings

Background: the National Council on Disability (NCD) is an independent federal agency charged with advising the President, Congress, and other federal agencies regarding policies, programs, practices, and procedures that affect people with disabilities. NCD is comprised of a team of Presidential and Congressional appointees, an Executive Director appointed by the Chair, and a full-time professional staff. (“Read more about the NCD team“)

Below, in NCD’s charge of advising the President, Congress, and federal agencies, it has released a report: 

 “Policies from the Past in a Modern Era: The Unintended Consequences of the AbilityOne Program & Section 14(c)” 

The summary of the report and links to the report are further below. Immediately below is a summary of Congressional staff briefings and links to those briefings both in print and as audio recordings. 

NCD policy briefings to Congressional staff on AbilityOne Report

NCD conducted a comprehensive analysis of the AbilityOne Program to determine whether it promotes Congress’ goal of improving employment opportunities for people who are blind or have significant disabilities. Today, the program is made of a government-appointed Commission and staff, three central nonprofit agencies (CNAs) that facilitate the program, and over 500 participating nonprofit agencies that hire people who are blind or have significant disabilities to sell goods and services to federal agencies. 

NCD’s AbilityOne briefing series provided Congressional staff members with NCD’s latest report, Policies from the Past in a Modern Era: The Unintended Consequences of the AbilityOne Program and Section 14(c), including its major findings and findings and recommendations regarding the 82 year-old federal disability employment system. It includes an optional primer on AbilityOne for those less familiar with the program, followed by an overview of the report findings and recommendations, and explored report findings at greater depth. 

Oct. 22, 2020 – Ability One Primer 

NCD provided an overview of the AbilityOne program for those desiring a better understanding of the federal disability employment system. 

Audio recording of event
Transcript of delivered remarks as prepared 

Oct. 22, 2020 – NCD Report Overview 

Audio recording of event
Transcript of delivered remarks as prepared 

Oct. 29, 2020 – AbilityOne and National Disability Policy Goals 

Audio recording of event
Transcript of delivered remarks as prepared 

Nov. 5, 2020 – AbilityOne and National Disability Policy Goals 

Audio recording of event
Transcript of delivered remarks as prepared 

Policies from the Past in a Modern Era: The Unintended Consequences of the AbilityOne Program & Section 14(c)

October 14, 2020 


Related Report (2019): A Cursory Look at AbilityOne 

SCOPE AND PURPOSE: NCD conducted a comprehensive analysis of the AbilityOne Program to determine whether it promotes Congress’ goal of improving employment opportunities for people who are blind or have significant disabilities. Today, the program is made of a government-appointed Commission and staff, three central nonprofit agencies (CNAs) that facilitate the program, and over 500 participating nonprofit agencies that hire people who are blind or have significant disabilities to sell goods and services to federal agencies. 

NCD’s report raises the following concerns about the AbilityOne Program: 

  • Despite increased program revenue earned through sales to the Federal Government, employment for people who are blind or have significant disabilities has steadily declined since 2011 – While overall program sales have increased, the number of employees and total direct labor hours from the employment of people who are blind or have significant disabilities have declined since FY 2011. The percentage of overall program revenue paying wages to people are blind or have with significant disabilities has also declined each year since FY 2011. 
  • The program undermines current national disability policy goals to create competitive integrated employment opportunities for people with disabilities – The program is a federally sanctioned segregated jobs system from 1938 that reinforces distinct employment paths for people who are blind or have significant disabilities that may result in subminimum wages. The program relies on an outdated societal landscape that existed prior to a public right to education and other core civil rights for people with disabilities. For this reason, only approximately four percent of employees hired under the program exit the program to enter competitive, integrated employment each year. 
  • Repeated concerns about transparency and conflicts of interest remain unaddressed and undermine confidence in the program – While the CNAs continue to seek opportunities to increase program revenue, past scrutiny and criticism from Congress, the Government Accountability Office, its own Inspector General, and the Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities remain unresolved. The CNA program fee remains exempt from federal restrictions on its use allowing it to fund executive salaries and lobbying expenses. In addition, NPAs have the discretion to decide which employees have significant disabilities, however NCD’s interviews and site visits with NPAs raised concern that they lack the capacity, skill, and knowledge to objectively evaluate the skills of their workers with disabilities. 

NCD concludes the report by advising Congress to transition the outdated AbilityOne Program into a new requirement under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act that will incentivize federal contractors to hire a percentage of people who are blind or have significant disabilities at competitive wages and provides recommendations to successfully transition the current 45,000 AbilityOne employees into competitive, integrated employment.



by Mark E. Seifarth

As the Month of October 2020 came to an end, not only have we observed this year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month, but also remembered:

  1. 75th Anniversary of National Employment Awareness Month
  2. 100th Anniversary of the National Vocational Rehabilitation program
  3. 50th Anniversary establishment of Developmental Disability Councils
  4. In Ohio, 50th anniversary of Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities– housing the state’s vocational rehabilitation program
  5. In Ohio since 2016 (in many states for years) – October is Disability History & Awareness Month

I have been pondering how to remember these amazing milestones and how we move forward to our next challenges & accomplishments. Our current times have been perhaps wondrous, celebratory, stormy, unsettling, and scary during a pandemic.

I was drawn to this November 8, 2020 Washington Post announcement for a touchstone:

Jim Ramstad, an 18 year Member of Congress, died at 74. Why highlight this Republican from Minnesota to help celebrate our past and prepare for our future? Is it that shortly before his death he marked 39 years of sobriety from alcohol? Is it that he died of Parkinson’s disease? Is it that he was the chief sponsor of legislation that added significant protections in health coverage for those with mental illness & chemical dependency? Or (from my time some years ago as Congressional Liaison with the National Council on Disability) is it that he was Co-Chair with Rep. Jim Langevin (Democrat from Rhode Island) of the Congressional Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus?

Before I answer as to why I find the passing of a former Member of Congress from Minnesota of value in our remembrances, let me relate a quick slice of memory from a discussion I had with former Rep. Ramstad in his Congressional Office. He shared with me that he accompanied his grandmother very often as she supported and worked with children with disabilities. He related that when he was young he spend a great deal of time helping and having fun with children with disabilities.

So let’s take another moment to review one more bit of history and then use our history to look at today, tomorrow, and finally answer my questions.

In 1920 the Smith-Fess Act was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson, (also known as the Civilian Vocational Rehabilitation Act). It established the Vocational Rehabilitation program for Americans with disabilities. At that point, only individuals with physical disabilities are eligible for services. This is the 100th Anniversary of the national Vocational Rehabilitation Program I noted as #2 above

Here is a bit of background on the Sponsors of the Smith-Fess Act:

Michael Hoke Smith (September 2, 1855 – November 27, 1931) was an American attorney, a Democratic politician, and newspaper owner; served as United States Secretary of the Interior (1893–1896), 58th Governor of Georgia (1907–1909, 1911), and a United States Senator (1911–1920) from Georgia.

Simeon Davison Fess (December 11, 1861 – December 23, 1936) was a Republican politician and educator from Ohio; Dean of the Ohio Northern University law department 1896-1900, and University Vice President 1900-1902; President of Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio, 1907-1917. He served in the United States House of Representatives and U.S. Senate from 1913 – 1935.

Again, we see the bipartisanship of Mr. Smith & Mr. Fess – a Democrat and a Republican – that has been the hallmark of disability policy and advocacy. We are all in this together.

So, in this time when many are talking about political partisanship and differences, the passing of Jim Ramstad reminded me – as I submit it should perhaps remind us all – that issues affecting Americans with Disabilities have historically been addressed in a bipartisan fashion. I raised all those questions about Jim Ramstad’s life, as his life might be all of our lives as he worked hard to include everyone, while dealing with his own life too. We must continue to advocate for ourselves as people with disabilities for independence, equal access and inclusion even more strongly than in the past. And we must try to work together while arguing vociferously and making sure we are in the room.

Looking to our future, here are three recent examples of leadership, learning, and growing that may be of interest:

  • The Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus was formed in the 107th Congress (2001-2003), and serves as a groundbreaking forum for Members of Congress and their staff to discuss the many issues affecting people with disabilities.  The primary purpose of the Caucus is to inform, educate and raise awareness on issues affecting people with disabilities. The Co-Chairs of this currently 58 member caucus are: Representative Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Representative Don Young (R-AK).
    • Look to see if Congress Members from your state are in the Caucus. If not, perhaps ask them to join and become part of the discussion. Link to Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus:
  • The California Developmental Disabilities Council produced “Let’s Work!” a documentary about 8 young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their experiences and successes in competitive integrated employment. They held an online screening of the documentary & a panel discussion including people in the documentary and members of the California DD Council. Here’s the YouTube link to the documentary:
  • On November 4, a dozen women leaders in business, finance, law, education, journalism, politics, government and civic advocacy participated in panel discussions that explored women’s leadership in the U.S., reflecting on lessons learned, current challenges and action plans for the future. In addition, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center gave a briefing about its report, “Views of Gender Equality and Women’s Leadership in the U.S.” All were recorded and can be viewed:  

In the Women’s Leadership Forums, A closing quote from Women in Government Executive Director Lucy Gettman may be helpful as we chart our future: “Lead from where you are, we can all be leaders, and we are all leaders in our homes, our communities, and our public venues.” (Full Disclosure – I am Lucy Gettman’s spouse)

Finally, here’s the link to Jim Ramstad’s obituary if you wish to read more than my few excerpts:

Let us learn from our past and learn how to be leaders together for our future.

From 3 Ways Elevating the Narrative on Disabilities Leads to Business Success

Disabilities expert Ric Nelson shows how the strongest organizations do it best

Cheryl Snapp Conner


CEO of SnappConner PR

November 5, 2020

In a recent column, I introduced Ric Nelson, a 37-year-old disability advocate in Anchorage, Alaska. Nelson has cerebral palsy and requires full-time assistance to manage his physical needs. Despite his challenges, he’s dedicated his career to advancing programs and understanding of the disabled in Alaska (which ranks third in the U.S. for the strength of its programs) and throughout the U.S. 

After graduating in the top 10 percent of his high school class, Nelson secured associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in Small Business Management and Business Administration on scholarship, followed by a master’s degree in Public Administration. 

Nelson serves on multiple boards and has testified in Washington D.C. toward advances in the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Appointed in 2007, After six years’ service as a committee member of the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education (GCDSE), he was elected as the program chair for two years and hired as a staff member from September 2015 until September 2020 as the program’s Employment Program Coordinator.

Most recently Nelson has assumed the role of Advocacy and Outreach Specialist for The ARC of Anchorage, one of 600 U.S. locations for The Arc of the United States, an organization launched by parents of people with developmental disabilities in the 1950s and headquartered in Washington, D.C. 

For the disabled, financial obstacles abound

The Covid-19 recession has hit the disabled particularly hard, Nelson says. The disabled have lost nearly 1M jobs between March and May of 2020. Complicating factors include jobs that ended due to the extra risk of immunocompromised conditions and the predominance of lower-level positions in industries that have been most heavily hit. With DEI (Diversity, Equality and Inclusion) becoming one of the highest priorities for this year’s end and the seasons to follow, what do businesses need to know and do to support the disabled from here forward?

Related: How Hiring People With Disabilities Will Make Your Business Stronger

In an interview, Nelson reinforced the need for self-advocacy among the disabled and the need for greater awareness and education of the businesses and communities they serve. Public perception is tantamount, he says, to avoid the creation of further problems by the very solutions we attempt to create. 

For example, he notes the extreme difficulty (and even impossibility) of having a savings account when government programs assume any earning potential should be used to reimburse the cost of Medicare needs. 

“The cost to Medicare of a full-time assistant may be $100,000, regardless of the person’s activities,” Nelson says. “But if a fully-employed disabled person makes $50,000 or $80,000 – a rarity in itself – and loses their qualification for Medicare funds, they can’t go to work without suddenly incurring this debt.” 

Other issues include the right to continued health care benefits if they marry, or to put away retirement savings or to maintain equivalent benefits if they move to a different state. Many of these issues require continued advocacy to state and federal agencies.

But what can individual companies do? 

I consulted Sara Dansie Jones, the diversity and inclusion expert at the helm of InclusionPro for input. Especially in the environment of heightened tension around diversity and equality issues, she noted that she is observing three tiers of acceptance and activity around diversity issues. If businesses understand these levels, they can use diversity to make their businesses stronger at the same time they support community and families. The ideals are not mutually exclusive, she maintains. Nelson agrees. 

The secret is in elevating the narrative around inclusion from argument to opportunity, Jones says. She defines the three levels as follows: 

Level 1: Compliance is the minimum. 

This is the minimum level of inclusion to meet ADA or other diversity standards, that allow you to operate legally. At this level companies may privately complain about the cost of meeting accessibility requirements or the need to meet diversity language or hiring requirements. 

Meeting compliance is vital to the continued right to operate legally and is at least “something” in terms of providing accessibility and some level of job opportunities. But (and I will note this as a female executive, as a small example), is it really ideal to be chosen for a role because the organization wants to demonstrate its compliance or willingness to include a disabled person or a person of color or a female on their employee roster or board? Compliance is not a bad thing, of course, but is a minimum step with minimal outcome. 

Level 2: Beware “compassionate” condescension 

In this step, which Nelson jokingly refers to as “disability porn,” political candidates go out of their way to be photographed with disabled citizens. Company ads depict photographs that attempt to include not only the disabled but every minority possible, regardless of the actual landscape of their typical business transactions. 

Related: Employing Individuals with Disabilities May Solve Your Talent Crisis

We have seen this type of activity redouble during the political season as well as in response to racial tension – social media posts of everyone putting their arm around their nearest Black friend, for example. But the attempt to communicate “I’m not racist” is an act that doesn’t edify either party and, furthermore, makes most individuals cringe.  

Jones notes these activities, such as depicting a disabled person shopping in the market as a message of “isn’t this heartening” moves beyond legal requirements but remains condescending. Why should the sight of a disabled person participating in “normal” life functions be a cause for attention at all? 

“Yes, these are things that signal inclusion, but they also signal ‘compassion’ in a way that is condescending instead of a show of actual respect.” 

Level 3: Value Add

Mutual value-add with all diversities – and perhaps especially the disabled, as they constitute America’s largest minoritized community – should be our ultimate goal, Jones says. For example, she notes the example of a friend she has known since college, a woman with cerebral palsy, who was able to complete her master’s degree with support from an enlightened employer, Discover Card. By providing the avenue for her education, the company was able to benefit from her talents during the entire span of her schooling. 

With her degree, the woman has been able to open and operate a counseling practice in a building that is fully accessible and brings specialized counseling to the disabled and to families of the disabled among the services she offers, which supports the community in multiple ways – 1) She provides revenue to support herself, her assistant and adds to the revenue of her community, state and federal programs, and 2) She provides insights to her clients that are uniquely beneficial due to her personal knowledge of the challenges they face. Thanks to the support of an enlightened employer, this individual has enriched not only that company but has now created a business and revenue base of her own.  

In another case, Salt Lake City’s leading broadcaster realized one of its key producers – who requires a wheelchair – was frequently getting locked into rooms by the swinging doors she was unable to open. Of their own volition, they rebuilt the doors in their building not only to accommodate her but to better support the accessibility of other present and future employees and guests. This was not a legal requirement; however, it allows them to maximize the gains they receive from a vital employee. There is mutual value add and everyone wins. 

Nelson espouses this thinking as well. In addition to his administrative role for The ARC, he has worked for four years as a key fundraiser and organizing participant of the annual Peer Power Self Advocacy Summit in Anchorage. The conference invites businesses to attend and support and provides scholarship funds to bring participants in advocacy to gain education and to advance the ability of individuals and communities to provide mutual benefit in increasingly meaningful ways. The 2020 event was virtual, but preparation is now beginning for the program’s 5th annual event at the end of September in 2021. 

Meanwhile, his message to businesses and elected officials is this: “We need to hold ourselves – and each other – to a higher standard.” 

In doing so, there are benefits for us all.  

Related: How to Make Accommodations That Attract and Motivate Workers …

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