What Makes a Movement

Monday, October 24, 2016

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is observed each October. The theme this year is “#InclusionWorks.” How many people know this?

Employment of people with disabilities is a civil rights issue. Federal legislation prohibits discrimination and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities. In addition to the legal imperative, evidence from the workplace shows that employing people with disabilities is good business.

A Louis Harris and Associates survey of 920 American employers revealed that employees with disabilities have about the same productivity levels as employees without disabilities. Some 90 per cent were rated as average or above average in performance of job duties. Nearly 80 per cent of the managers also said that their employees with a disability work as hard as or harder than their employees without a disability (Alberta Human Services). Other surveys have found similar results on performance and also lower than average absenteeism and job turnover.

So why are we still talking about this? Why are qualified people with disabilities almost twice as likely to be unemployed? What will it take to move people and change this? What will bring this idea into the light and change the way that society views it?

We have all witnessed changes in social values on everything from the use of seatbelts to smoking cigarettes. Sociologists note that change seems a long time in the making and then an issue reaches a tipping point, after which we realize that public opinion has shifted. What precedes this tipping point? What causes it? The concept of a sociological tipping point was made popular by author Malcolm Gladwell in his first book, also called the Tipping Point. He notes the seemingly random nature of the process and that "Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do."

It is anybody’s guess when disability employment will become mainstream. Anti-discrimination legislation is in place. There is evidence that disability inclusion is beneficial to employers. All that remains is for the issue to reach critical mass.

Going back to Malcolm Gladwell, the virus of social change will be spread by leaders and persuaders. It is people who will ultimately push this idea over the top. Check out this Tedx talk by Randy Lewis, a former V.P. at Walgreens, Notice how he uses the power of individual’s stories to persuade.  

Foundation grantees – and people served by grantees – will be among the persuaders. See the letter from Sammy Shipman, a graduate of the Statler Center, which is included in this month’s Report. These, and stories like them, make a movement.

The Foundation continues to support the movement for disability inclusion in the workplace with its grant making and its voice. Similarly, it continues to support movements for education and social justice for disadvantaged and Indigenous Peoples. Change is coming; we don’t know when. In the words of our 2015 Annual Report, we will “Keep Going.”