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Disability issues in the workforce

May 9, 2009
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

You know how you can hear a comment on one day and it doesn't bother you, but you may hear that same comment the next day, and it just makes you absolutely furious?

If you haven't, then maybe this just happens to me and it's my issue to work on. Regardless, this happened to me last Saturday morning. It was a wonderful morning. I was sitting at home having a nice, leisurely cup of coffee while watching the Saturday "Early Show" on CBS.

Unless there's major news going on in the world, those weekend news shows are pretty light and relaxing to watch. That was the case on this day. They had a segment on about baby things: diaper bags, strollers, etc.

Not really much to hold my interest, as I had just dropped my first baby off at the high school to take her SATs. Baby days are long gone in our house.

All of a sudden, BAM! As a guest is explaining to the host all the perks of various baby "must haves," she stops at one specific item (for the life of me, I can't even remember what it was-for some reason I think it was an alternative to the Diaper Genie. We didn't have Diaper Genies when my kids were babies, so I guess I was the genie). Anyway, the guest says something to the effect of purchasing this product is a good thing to do because the manufacturer is a good company. They hire only people with disabilities, so they're "giving back" to the community. The host agrees that this is sweet, as if to say it is a generous thing to do. They move on to the next product.

WHAT!? Giving back? This way of thinking is so incredibly foreign to me that my mind, five days later, is still swimming with questions. I'll let you in on my freaky mind.

Giving back what? Hiring employees with disabilities must be some type of charity.

Are these employees just given jobs because they have a disability? I think not.

A company is in business to do business. I highly doubt they just hand a paycheck to people who cannot perform the tasks the position requires.

Do they really hire "only" people with disabilities? Of course not, that's discrimination.

What does hiring a person with a disability do to "give back" that hiring a person without a disability does not do? That's a stumper for me and I cannot get past it.

Do people believe that unless employers take pity on people with disabilities no one would hire us? Right or wrong-that is often the case.

The "giving back" mentality just kills me. Society's view that employers who hire people with disabilities are generous is just a load of .. well, you see where I'm going. Employers hire qualified people - period. Employers need a job done. People need jobs. Employers hire the person who will best fulfill the requirements of the job. Employers do not and should not lower their expectations when hiring a person with a disability.

I'm sure that, whatever this company is, they realized a good deal. By the way, I've looked and looked all over the place and cannot find what that baby product was or who this company is. My plan was to contact them before I wrote this and ask them a few questions.

My issue is not with this company ... it is with public perception. This company could help raise awareness of the benefits of hiring people with disabilities. Employees with disabilities stay with an employer longer, are more productive and are more loyal to their employer than any other segment of the population. No joke. There are always a few bad apples, but pervasively this is the case. Why would an employer not want this type of employee?

Maybe the diaper people, or whatever they do, began hiring people with disabilities as a way to "look good." The benefit to the company was a bonus. I just wish they wouldn't keep it such a secret. We need some good press!



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