Disability Advocates Urge More Inclusive Work Environments, Hiring Practices

As businesses across Illinois and the nation work to fill open positions, advocates for people with disabilities say they should take a more inclusive approach. According to federal data, the jobless rate for people with disabilities is 11.5%, compared with slightly more than 5% for the rest of the population. Kim Mercer-Schleider, director of the Illinois Developmental Disabilities Council, said with workforce shortages across many industries, there is no reason for people with disabilities to be underemployed.

“I would ask for employers to be open to taking a look at, what positions do you need to have filled?” Mercer-Schleider suggested. “How can they be broken up or looked at differently, that capitalizes on somebody’s skill set?”

She noted it is important to acknowledge some people might need accommodations in some areas, but can really thrive in others. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and she pointed out it is the perfect time to reflect on how to make hiring practices more inclusive. Mercer-Schleider added it is also important to make sure the hiring process itself is accessible. She observed some online applications are not compatible with screen readers, for instance.

“Are your materials accessible? Can they be accessed with assistive technology, etc.? Are you opening up the door wide enough?” Mercer-Schleider outlined.

She emphasized the pandemic also has shown more flexible work is possible, for instance, working from home is a viable option for people who may have mobility issues or lack transportation. She hopes employers will embrace it as an option for accessibility beyond the COVID crisis.

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