Labor is the key
On Labor Day we thank the men and women who have built America. Those that have toiled to build the railroads, bridges, tunnels and great buildings to those who create ships, airplanes, automobiles and the rockets that took us to the moon. We are all a part of the great American workforce. Now comes the twenty-first century with the need to keep building the dreams of people into an accessible livable future. It is information technology that is lighting the way to that future. The potential of accessible information technology means that people with disabilities can be a greater part of the American labor force than ever before. The 70% unemployment rate of the disabled today can become a mystery of the past.
People with disabilities represent one of the greatest untapped labor resources in the nation’s history. With the advent of information and emerging technologies the frustrations of how to best utilize this resource can fade away. Technology is turning limitations of the past like difficulties in transportation, the need to communicate electronically and the desire to work from home into great advantages. A great shift away from the brick and mortar workplaces of the past is taking place, just as the self-employment (subcontractor) trend is putting more control in the hands of workers at all levels. These shifts in labor mean greater flexibility for both the workers and those needing the work done. Control that will be of great advantage to workers with disabilities.
When I became blind in 1967, the unemployment rate among people with disabilities was 70% or higher. Today it is still the same. Throughout our history, politicians and bureaucrats love to bemoan rising unemployment numbers or trumpet rising employment rates. Seldom, if ever, do the same individuals highlight the unemployment rates among the disabled. This is a shameful reality across government entities. Yes, we spend billions on rehabilitation without much result as evidenced by the unreasonably high unemployment rate among the disabled. Is this because there is no real policy shift that supports the employment of people with disabilities? A policy shift like the Access Ready Environments Initiative. Without such policy shifts, all the rehabilitation money possible will make little difference.
Throwing money at a problem is often only half of the solution. Complex social issues like the rehabilitation and integration of people with disabilities into the mainstream workforce require a paradigm shift in thinking and behavior. This must begin and be supported by policy changes. The Americans With Disabilities Act has proven that you cannot just pass a law and throw money at a problem to bring about such fundamental change. The information technology age has brought about an even greater opportunity to support such a policy shift. Over the next five years, we must move toward building an Access Ready Environment through information technology. It is a shift that can have a great long-term effect on the employment of people with disabilities.
As a paradigm shifting movement the Access Ready Environments Initiative is beginning where all great change starts to build toward a tipping point, which is the local level. While it can also be the most difficult it is in the cities and counties where people really see the need and can change policy which is understood as “just doing the right thing”. It is true that this is where the most parochial attitudes and uneducated stubbornness is found, but it is the goodness of people who will overcome this entrenched opposition. Through this initiative we can change the employment landscape for people with disabilities utilizing accessible information technology if we will only require it in a rising tide that shows labor is the key.
Douglas George Towne
Chair/Chief Executive Officer – Access Ready Inc.