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The case for improving work for people with disability goes way beyond compliance

Thu, 04 Jan 2018, 11:42 AM

Laura Sherbin & Julia Taylor Kennedy, HBR, 27 December 2017
As Chieko Asakawa walks around IBM’s campus, she explores new ways of getting from point A to point B. She recognizes the faces of colleagues approaching her and greets them. She reads snack labels and decides whether to eat them. Although she is blind, Asakawa doesn’t need a human or canine companion to complete these tasks. She’s helped invent a smartphone app that, as she explained in a recent TED talk, “understands our surrounding world and whispers to me in voice or sends a vibration to my fingers. Eventually, I’ll be able to find a classroom on campus, enjoy window shopping, or find a nice restaurant while walking along a street.”
Asakawa has been able to turn her disability into a professional asset, to the commercial benefit of her employers. But many people with disabilities enter workplaces that don’t enable them to do the same.
A new study from the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) found that, according to the 2015 US government’s definition of disability, a significant portion of the white-collar workforce has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity: 30% of a nationally representative survey of 3,570 white-collar employees. The numbers are similar across gender, race, and generation. Not only do employees with disabilities comprise a large talent pool, it’s a remarkably innovative one: 75% of them report having an idea that would drive value for their company (versus 66% of employees without disabilities). Yet, we find, individuals with disabilities frequently encounter workplace discrimination, bias, exclusion, and career plateaus—meaning their employers lose out on enormous innovation and talent potential.
Many people are surprised to learn that such a high rate of employees have disabilities, because they generally assume that “disability” means having an obvious physical condition. However, close to two-thirds of the study’s respondents have a disability which, while included under the federal definition, is invisible. These might include diseases like lupus or Crohn’s, whose flare-ups are incapacitating; migraines, which can cause temporary blindness; mood disorders like depression; learning disabilities like dyslexia; developmental differences like autism; and other forms of neurodiversity. Some 62% say that unless they deliberately disclose their disability, most people have no idea it exists.
Read: the full article at HBR

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