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OPINION | JON TAYLOR: An inch away

Open glass door to better workforce by JON TAYLOR SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | October 21, 2021 at 2:56 a.m.

The CDC reports that 35 percent of adult Arkansans--one out of three--live with developmental disabilities, which is nearly 10 percent higher than the national average. This means that a large part of our state's workforce can be characterized by this population, and I believe eliminating barriers to their employment is vital for the future of our state and economy.

Inclusive hiring and inclusive workplaces drive competitive, integrated employment. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and while we all know it takes more than one month to break down the barriers that exist around employment for people with disabilities, we can start the conversation.

When we discuss barriers, some are physical, like accessible workplaces; some are mental, like unconscious bias or blatant discrimination; and some are systemic, like inaccessible application processes or outdated job descriptions.

This is why Arkansas has many organizations in place working hard to eliminate the obstacles that people with developmental disabilities encounter.

Arkansas Rehabilitation Services offers career education services to prepare Arkansans with disabilities to work and lead productive and independent lives. Other organizations like ACCESS Schools work with Arkansas youth with disabilities to empower them to succeed throughout adulthood. Businesses like Union Pacific have committed to creating an inclusive culture through diverse and equitable hiring practices.

The Arkansas Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities works to improve the independence and productivity of Arkansans with intellectual and developmental disabilities and to ensure their integration and inclusion into communities across the state.

This year, we are honoring National Disability Employment Awareness Month with a statewide disability inclusion survey open to all Arkansas-based employers. This survey will shed light on businesses' hiring practices and uncover the hurdles they face when hiring inclusively, which will help us better align our current and future resources to meet these needs.

Without statewide efforts like these or companies implementing inclusive and equitable hiring practices, we are creating even more hurdles for individuals with developmental disabilities. At the end of the day, we also create more than a metaphoric glass ceiling--we are creating a glass door.

With glass doors, both sides can see each other clearly but are separated by a mere inch of glass. Everyone on the outside can see what everyone on the inside has and they would like to have that, too. Despite many misperceptions, employees with disabilities don't expect things to be simply handed to them; they want the chance to come inside and work for it just like everyone else.

Not only is inclusive hiring the right thing to do, it is a good business decision.

In this unprecedented job market where good employees are hard to find and even harder to keep, retention is a blessing. Studies show that long-term employees have situational experience, refined skills and institutional memory that can help support revenue.

In the United States, employees with a disability have an average attrition rate of 15 percent, meaning that the likelihood of that employee staying at their job for at least one year is 85 percent. When you take a look at today's service-based job market that offers many careers in fast food, hospitality and retail, the average turnover rates for those three industries are 50 percent, 60 percent, and 59 percent, respectively. And those rates are pre-covid.

Comparing these numbers to the attrition rate of employees with disabilities, they are far more likely to stay in a role, gain experience, build skills and become a valuable part of any team.

During National Disability Employment Awareness Month, take action.

Employers across the state should reflect on their current hiring practices by completing our disability inclusion survey. If you are on the other side of the glass door, let someone in by interviewing qualified candidates with a disability.

There are resources to support businesses that take on initiatives to create and grow more diverse workplaces in the Natural State, and we want to encourage you to give diverse employees the same chance you would offer any other applicant.

Open the door. Actually--let's break it.


Jon Taylor is executive director of the Arkansas Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities. The council's purpose is to connect people with developmental disabilities to the resources and programs they need to be independent, productive, integrated and included in all parts of community life. To learn more or to participate in its online disability inclusion survey open through Oct. 31, visit gcdd.Arkansas.gov.

Print Headline: An inch away

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