NOD President Carol Glazer on the "Tyrrany of Low Expectations"
In 2010, as the country celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the ADA, many civil rights activists like myself couldn’t help but notice that the legislation, far reaching though it was, came a full quarter century after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, on which the ADA was modeled. How long it took for our country to take that essential and logical step! We also noted in a 2010 Harris survey, that unemployment rates for people with disabilities had changed little in the 24 years since Harris’s first poll for NOD. It’s true that we had much to celebrate, but the work ahead seemed daunting.
Now, as I write this letter, I am struck by how different the landscape looks. We can increasingly build upon the work of the disability rights leaders who came before us. Their achievements—battles hard won in years gone by—are sticking. We’re also seeing new faces join the crusade. Employers recognizing the unique talents and resilience that people with disabilities bring to their workforce. And a vocational rehabilitation system that increasingly sees employers as its customer. Consider:
- NOD’s Bridges to Business program, initiated in 2010 with pilot partnerships with Lowe’s and Sam’s Club/Walmart, has now worked with more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies. An independent evaluation of the program, conducted by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, concluded that: “Of all the programs designed to place people with disabilities in employment that the Heldrich Center has evaluated to date, Bridges to Business demonstrated the greatest success in job placement.”
- Our allies in the field are thriving and have much to be proud of. The US Business Leadership Network (USBLN®), is the single largest “grasstops” effort in our field—grassroots in its scale and structure, but with a constituency of corporate leaders who can wield considerable influence politically and in our economy. These leaders join their peers in NOD’s own CEO Council in their understanding of the bottom-line benefits of hiring people with disabilities, the returns of which go well beyond workforce performance. Independent research confirms that employees are proud to be part of a company that embraces equal rights for all, and that customers prefer buying from such companies.
- Individual business leaders are increasingly making big and very public moves to support equality for people with disabilities. Among these standouts: pioneer Randy Lewis, senior vice president of distribution for Walgreens, the nation’s largest drugstore chain. Eight years ago, Lewis set a 30 percent hiring goal for people with disabilities in the company’s distribution centers. Last year, Walgreens jumped that high hurdle, recently hiring the company’s 1,000th employee with a disability. Lewis’s actions have encouraged scores of other companies to follow in Walgreens’ footsteps.
- And earlier this year, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs at the US Department of Labor introduced a new proposed rule regarding hiring of people with disabilities. While the merits and the particulars of this proposal will—and indeed should—be debated, the salient point is that affirmative hiring standards for people with disabilities, much like those for women and racial and ethnic minorities, is on the table for the first time in history.
Bob Dylan, observing the civil rights movement in the 1960s, wrote that, “the order is rapidly fading…the line it is drawn, the curse it is cast, the slow one now will later be fast.” The same message holds true today. The hard work in our field to close the employment gap for people with disabilities has gained new traction. Our labors are having a palpable effect on a larger scale than ever before.