Cornell University

August 12 2010

Committing to Diversity

Veterans with disabilities underscore inclusivity issues

Thousands of military veterans with disabilities are looking for civilian jobs after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While many employers will welcome their return to the workforce, "sustaining employment for veterans with disabilities will take more than goodwill," said Hannah Rudstam of ILR.

"It will take an enduring and robust commitment to disability inclusiveness in the workplace," she said in an interview.

Rudstam is part of the Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center-Northeast Americans with Disabilities Act Center.

The facility, located in ILR's Employment and Disability Institute, is part of a national network providing training, referrals and other information.  Businesses, government, people with disabilities, the media and the public use the free service.

Events celebrating the 20th anniversary of the federal legislation will be held at the ILR Conference Center today.

Open to the public, "Celebrate, Contemplate and Collaborate" events begin at 9 a.m. at the ILR Conference Center.  More information is available at http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/edi/register/dbtac_ADA_Anniversary.cfm.

Events include a talk by congenital amputee John Robinson at 11 a.m. today in the conference center.

Rudstam said employers can start the inclusiveness process by asking themselves how people with disabilities fare in their organizations.

"Are they hired? Are they coached? Are their talents and contributions valued? Are accommodations provided quickly and effectively?"

"Ultimately, what happens generally to workers with disabilities in the workplace will happen to veterans with disabilities," Rudstam said.

"The best way to welcome veterans with disabilities back into the workforce is to provide workplace conditions, practices and environments that enable them to fully apply their talents and skills to their jobs."

Despite federal legislation mandating rights for people with disabilities in workplaces and other sites, four of every five Americans with disabilities is unemployed.  Fifty-four million people in the United States have disabilities.

"Representing nearly 20 percent of our population, people with disabilities rarely are the focus of diversity efforts. This exclusion is not only problematic on moral grounds, it also compromises the ability of employers to fully engage the talents of their employees," Rudstam said.

"Next time you're at work, look around.  According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, about one third of the people in your workplace will acquire a long-term disability before reaching the age of 60."

"For these people, having an employer with effective disability inclusiveness policies will make the difference between staying in or exiting the work force."  

"Disability inclusiveness isn’t just about the law or about empathy," Rudstam said. "Employers who provide accommodations enabling people with a disability to remain effective in their jobs will reap the benefits of maintaining a fully engaged workforce."