Disability.gov | March 13, 2015
Guest Blog By John D. Kemp, President and CEO of The Viscardi Center
As we prepare to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the passage of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, I cannot help but ask, how many corporate CEOs, presidents or high-level executives with disabilities easily come to mind? Although I use four prostheses and steer a large not-for-profit in the New York metro area, I can only rattle off a few CEOs with a disability. While we’re seeing broadened gender and ethnic diversity at the top of the ladder, people with disabilities are still lagging when it comes to making it to the C-suite.
The lack of individuals in leadership roles is reflective of the employment woes people with disabilities are still experiencing. While the road towards this landmark anniversary includes many accomplishments, the employment of people with disabilities continues to be an area where we’ve barely moved the needle. We’re still seeing an outrageously low labor force participation rate, the percentage of people who are working or actively looking for work, by individuals with disabilities. The February 2015 labor force participation rate for people with disabilities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), was 19.8 percent, compared to 68.2 percent for people without disabilities. If well-educated, qualified individuals aren’t even in the workforce, how could they possibly climb the corporate ladder, or shall I say ‘ramp’?
Let’s look at ADA25 as a means of drawing attention to this continued challenge. If you are an employer, we need your “buy in.” You hold the keys to unlocking employment opportunities at all levels for people with disabilities. There is more untapped, educated talent out there than ever before. Embrace it. Recruit and hire people with disabilities. Advance those already within your organization and diversify your thought leadership.
Seek resources to assist you. There is a plethora of free resources available to employers such as the Employer TA Center— short for the National Employer Policy, Research and Technical Assistance Center for Employers on the Employment of People with Disabilities. The Employer TA Center is a free resource for employers seeking to foster a workplace culture inclusive of people with disabilities. Funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) under a cooperative agreement with The Viscardi Center, the Employer TA Center delivers technical assistance to employers seeking to recruit, hire, retain and promote qualified employees with disabilities through publications, training, webinars, a workforce recruitment program (WRP) and the Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN) website, AskEARN.org.
Putting more people with disabilities to work is beneficial to all. There is much to be said about the power of work. The confidence and self-worth, the way in which others view us and we view ourselves, and the independence that comes along with earning a paycheck. All of which translate into active participants in our communities who have the financial resources to care for themselves, and their families, and reduces the need for services and supports from governmental and human services organizations.
If you are a working individual with a disability, you, too, have an important role to play. I implore you to stand up and be counted. Take pride in your disability and the value you bring to the workplace each and every day. If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to choose to disclose your disability. As long as you’re qualified, push for advancement. You righteously belong in C-level and executive management positions. Remember, you serve as a mentor, a role model and instill disability pride in our younger generations.
I want to see every individual with a disability who wants to work have the chance to be employed. I want to be able to name many CEOs and high-level business professionals with a disability. I can only hope it doesn’t take another 25 years to come to fruition.
John D. Kemp is the president and CEO of The Viscardi Center, a network of nonprofit organizations that provides a lifespan of services that educate, employ and empower children and adults with disabilities. He is widely respected for his achievements in the corporate and nonprofit worlds. As a person with a disability who uses four prostheses, Kemp inspires others to achieve the impossible through knowledge, experience, vision, personality and persistence.
A graduate of Georgetown University and Washburn University School of Law, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Law from Washburn in May 2003. In March 2006, Kemp received the Henry B. Betts Award, widely regarded as America’s highest honor for disability leadership and service. In December 2014, Kemp received the 2014 Dole Leadership Prize at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He was the first disability leader to receive the distinction and personally selected by former Senator Robert Dole. Kemp joined a prestigious group of international recipients that includes Nelson Mandela, former President George H.W. Bush and former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko.
With more than 50 years of direct experience in the disability movement, Kemp has partnered with, worked for and served as board member/chair or CEO of several leading disability and nonprofit organizations. In 1995, Kemp co-founded the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) with Paul G. Hearne. In 2001, he became a partner in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Powers, Pyles, Sutter and Verville, P.C. He has also served on the Medicaid Commission and the U.S. State Department’s Advisory Committee on Persons with Disabilities.
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