A crack in the invisible wall

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on October 07, 2019 # Mobility

If you are a person with a disability and you just landed a good job or maybe even the first steps of a career, you probably should thank Donald Trump.

Whether by design or dumb luck, Mr. Trump’s presidency has coincided with a national unemployment rate “flirting with a 50-year low,” to quote the New York Times. Usually employment is a demand problem, not a supply problem. Too many people (supply), not enough jobs (demand.) Now, at least for the time being, it’s the other way around – too many unfilled jobs, not enough qualified people. As the above-quoted NYT Business story reports, this has forced needy employers to think outside of the box, as it were. One of the things they are doing is setting up programs to train, learn about, and then hire workers with disabilities. They even train their own managers on how to deal with these workers.

No one of course knows if this new wave of opportunity is short-lived, but companies are not doing this out of a sense of public service. These guys are not raking up points for the Afterlife. That’s not the way business works in America. They need smart, competent, loyal, enthusiastic workers, now. At least one company profiled at length, Dell Computer, says their programs for disabled workers are not just gap-fillers, abandoned the moment the economy goes south. They claim it is “part of a long-term strategy to diversify its work force.”

Well, God bless them for just saying that, whether they live up to that pledge or not. As you’ve probably read, the American economy is starting to look a little shaky and Trumpism, in world economic terms, may not be so magically successful in a year or two. Which is why, the article points out, for all workers traditionally outside the system, now is time to strike. The iron is hot.

Most higher plateaus in American culture – educational, financial, even social access and acceptance – are hard to reach for millions of people, but once they cross one of these barriers, they tend to make it work for them. This is the main point of the NYT article and worth quoting at length:

“For workers hired during the good times, the benefits can be enduring. Economic research has found that once people are drawn into the labor force, they tend to stay in it. That may be especially true for workers with disabilities or other barriers who thrive once given a job – but who struggle to get that chance in all but the strongest job market. (Italics mine.)

Also, think of the other benefits to this new training/hiring phase, however long it lasts. The more even one worker with a disability proves him or herself on the job, the more likely the employer will look around for more such candidates with disabilities. To accommodate one, companies will make structural adaptations to accommodate others. You only have to build a ramp to the lunchroom once.

Finally, as many people have noted, familiarity breeds acceptance. If you are not disabled, the guy or gal next to you in data processing may be the first person with a disability that you’ve ever spent more than five minutes chatting with. In sustained human interaction, stereotypes quickly disappear.

I know next to nothing about economics, global or otherwise, and what might unfold in the near future. But, from every report I’ve ever read, training and hiring people with disabilities is a no-brainer. They tend to be more motivated, more dedicated, making those around them more motivated and dedicated. They don’t flip jobs as fast as other workers. Loyalty and dependability aside, they also happen to represent an adult community whose total after-tax disposable income is around $490 billion.

My guess is that if this Dell program for potential employees with disabilities gets around, a lot of disabled computer users are going to switch to Dell. I’m thinking about it myself.