Labor is the Key

American Flag with blue sky and white clouds

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 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.