Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Could Richard Branson help my son find a job someday? His video is a start

"He's so cheerful with everyone!" the teacher said when I picked Max up from a school program the other day. Yep, that's my Max, the human form of sunshine, Prozac and all things happy. On the drive home, I once again started wondering what kind of job might someday be a fit for that upbeat attitude of his. He's just 16 and while I have hope that there will be more work possibilities for him by the time he enters the workforce, I'm worried.

Yesterday, I felt heartened as I read about Irish disability activist Caroline Casey and The Valuable 500—a campaign she just launched to get 500 global businesses to commit to putting disability on their board agendas this year, committing to both accountability and action. Stats show that disability is still absent in discussions by execs...and absent in the workforce. In the U.S., 21 percent of people with disabilities have jobs, compared to 68 of people without disabilities, per the Department of Labor.

"The 1 billion people globally who are disabled and can't find work need top leaders to take action—now," said Casey, who is blind. 

Microsoft, Unilever and Barclays have come onboard The Valuable 500. Virgin mogul Richard Branson stepped up his commitment with a video. "I see the value in creating a world that caters to the needs of the whole spectrum of humanity," he says. "Disability can no longer be a conversation reserved for charities and health organizations—businesses and business leaders have a vital role to play in transforming the lives of disabled people."

It's great that Richard Branson, one of the most most popular businesspeople of all time, is behind the campaign—people are going to listen up. Yet words and encouragement alone won't cut it. Too often, companies pay lip service to inclusion, and stop at that. In fact, Casey's called b.s. in a series of spot-on mini mockumentaries titled DIVERSish, like this one.

I'd love to see videos that showcase how major companies have included people with disabilities. I'd like to hear execs openly discuss the biases they've had to overcome—and how PWD proved them wrong. In fact, a recent report from Accenture found that companies that embrace best practices for employing and supporting more persons with disabilities in their workforce had revenues that were 28 percent higher, among other benefits. (Props, Microsoft, Bank of America and CVS).

Of course, I'd also like to hear more people with disabilities talk about the work they've found and how it happened. But business execs need to face up to the fact that they have failed PWD—and own how they are going to change that.

Oh, yes, this parent wants more, more, more. I am acutely aware of the roadblocks Max faces in life. I know all too well how hard is to shift mindsets and attitudes. Campaigns like this fuel my dreams for a world with more inclusive, barrier-free businesses for Max and other people with disabilities. I can only hope it's no fantasy.


  1. Amen. I'm reminded of a billboard that I once saw, with a picture of FDR, which read "Sometimes the person with the disability is the best person for the job."

  2. It wasn't until after high school that I realized my disability would make finding a job hard for me or that employers might look at me as less appealing. Yet I soon discovered that while other students could work a full course load and handle their work study job, just the walking back and forth to mine was exhausting and I truly found a great, meaningful one in disability services that taught me a lot. I tried a few times to work and nothing was viable long term, especially as my health deteriorated from side effects of past "treatments". Now they are trying to take away my SSDI which allows me at least a minimal level of income and health insurance. I have gone through months of trying to proove that my incurable condition which I have had since birth and is documented in hundreds of doctors knows, medical imaging, and surgical reports has not been magically cured all while dealing with how limited my life as become. I can not work. I hope someday to start my own business that is flexible enough for me but right now I can't even take care of all my basic needs alone nevermind making it to a job and being functional there.

    It's a scary world out there. For many I believe it's a matter of changing how we look at workers in general. Consider the massive exploitation going on right now, not just in far off countries but right here in the US, where wages for many are not enough to live on even for full time work and people are denied consistent schedules that would allow them to care for their families, stay healthy, and function in society. As long as we look at workers in general as disposable items that should be greatful to make corporations money people with disabilities will not see significant improvements in their workplace opportunities.

    Max *should* qualify for SSI and possibly SSDI (if you or your husband retire he can get SSDI on your record) and those come with work incentives. On of those is called the Plan to Achieve Self Support. This work incentive can be used to set aside money (either from a job or SSDI) which is not counted against the SSI amount. The set aside money is used to fund a work goal. This can include starting a business. This can be paired with other work incentives that could allow you and Max to create his own employment opportunity. If he enjoys people the selling a product at farmer's markets, craft fairs ect could be enjoyable.

  3. We just posted a new job ad on Craigslist and there was an option to highlight the ad for persons with disabilities. I thought that was great and of course clicked it. Why not? If a person is qualified for the position, I don't see a reason not to give them the same opportunities as everyone else.

  4. Like everything, especially in business and economics, there's a macro level and a micro level. In this case, the campaign you mention is working to move the ball forward on the macro level, through broad attitudinal and practice change on the corporate management level. This is really important and valuable.

    Meanwhile, at the micro level, there's a somewhat different set of issues, and the efforts to deal with them are different too. In every neighborhood and state, there are specific policy issues that are still hotly contested. For instance, are sheltered workshops a good idea? Do they create "meaningful" employment for people who would never be able to find it in "mainstream" workplaces? Or are they outdated models that perpetuate segregation and foster menial stagnation? Is it okay to pay some disabled workers less than minimum wage, because it's better than nothing and we all know that some disabled workers aren't as "productive" as other workers? Or is it another relic of the past that can and should be ended, if for no other reason that the glaring and demeaning injustice it appears to be? And of course there's the ongoing question that lots of disabled people wrestle with in their work lives ... how do we make the employment protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act a working reality without stigmatizing ourselves even more by stepping forward to assert our rights?

    I would be very interested to see what specific policies and practices, and maybe even legal changes this Valuable 500 initiative would embrace or promote.

    1. I think the interesting issue with paying people with disabilities less than the minimum wage that it puts those workers under a lens that workers without disabilities are not under. There are plenty of workers who do little to no work. Many of my partner's coworkers spend a large chunk of their time standing around or hiding from management or even sleeping in an unused corner. Because they do nor have disabilities it would not be legal to pay them less. They could be fired but they usually aren't. I will not name the chain but they obviously aren't particularly concerned with how productive their non disabled work force is. Why is it okay to subject people with disabilities to standards people without disabilities are help to? If we subjected non disabled people to that standard many would "earn" nothing because they are doing nothing but goofing around which they are allowed to do because they have the priveledge of not being disabled.

      Now I do understand the idea of people in a sheltered workshop being paid a minimal amount if they are only doing what amounts to busy work and require a large network of assistants to provide help. In that situation it seems to me though that no one should be profiting off the low paid labor as it is really just serving as a stimulating activity for the participants. Maybe it would be better to allow people who could not work in another setting to continuing working in a sheltered workshop and just divide the profits up evenly beteween participants. Not everyone can work in an integrated setting regardless of the amount of support and training provided so I don't think they should go away. My friend's brother could not handle being in a typical employmemt setting but with assistance he may be able to engage in some work in a sheltered workshop type setting. My friend is happy this is an option for him and does not care what, if anything he is paid. He needs 24/7 care and does not understand the concept of work or getting paid. He just needs something to do. Many people are able to do more and be more independent and of course those people should not be stuck in a sheltered workshop if they would prefer to work in a typical job.


Thanks for sharing!

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