Supporting inclusive work environments for the disabled
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, an annual commemoration of people with disabilities in the workforce. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 13% of Americans live with a physical or intellectual disability.
People with disabilities have nearly double the unemployment rate than those without. Barriers such as a lack of accommodations or bias in the hiring process greatly contribute.
“There’s also just a lot of shame and stigma wrapped up in having a disability and disclosing that you have a disability,” said Maggie Winston, program director at the Independent Living Center in Soldotna. “I think it’s important to know that lots of people have them, not everyone looks like they have them, and really it’s the only minority that you can become a part of in an instant.”
Earlier this month, Gov. Mike Dunleavy signed a proclamation recognizing the importance of employing people with disabilities in Alaska. Winston says although it’s a step in the right direction, more needs to be done.
“The recognition is good, but it’s more than just recognition,” she said. “There’s policies that need to be in place, there’s barriers that need to be brought down, there’s sort of systemic work that’s more important than recognition.”
Winston, who has a disability herself, says this includes increasing access to services and accommodations in the workplace. While the state of Alaska banned subminimum wages for people with disabilities, she says many still require a certain income to pay for day-to-day accommodations and services.
“We still need to have access to those services, and still make good money,” Winston said.
This year’s theme for National Disability Employment Awareness Month focuses on advancing access and equity. For local disability advocacy organizations like the Independent Living Center, that’s a part of their everyday work.
“Access and equity to me immediately means accommodations,” Winston said. “Individuals need accommodations in order to be able to work. Not disabled people will attribute special privileges or say ‘people with disabilities are so special, we need to lift them up.’ No, it’s not something special, it’s just accommodating so I can do the same thing that my peers can do, with an accommodation.”
If you or someone you know is in need of an accommodation due to a disability, the Independent Living Center is here to help. The organization has offices in Soldotna, Homer, Seward and Kodiak.