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How can workplaces better include disabled workers?

If you are unable to work in Wisconsin because of a disability, imagine if workplaces changed -- opened themselves up more -- and created an environment that allowed disabled workers to use their skills. Say you're unable to lift heavy loads, or maybe your hearing impairment is a factor, or maybe a mental condition or a chronic illness has made it impossible to get a job. Could companies and government agencies make accommodating changes to be more inclusive?

Most people who receive SSDI or SSI payments would rather work than not. But often an injury or illness, combined with the conditions of working, make employment impossible. In fact, there are about 29 million Americans of working age who have a disability, and only 5.2 million have a job. That means only 18 percent of disabled people who are 16 and older are employed. That percentage represents a 20 percent decrease in the last four years.

Of course, the recession had much to do with the decline in disabled people's employment. But lawmakers and advocacy groups are encouraging businesses to make changes, to find ways of using the skills of disabled workers.

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act provided, among other things, equal employment opportunity to disabled Americans. But Jeff Rosen, the chairman of the National Council on Disability, says much more needs to be done.

He says attitudes need to change. According to him, "Employers are still catching on to the fact that the needs of most workers with disabilities aren't special, but employees with disabilities often bring specialized skills to the workplace." Rosen, who is deaf, pointed out that people with disabilities often have special capabilities of adapting and finding solutions because disabled people have to "navigate a world that wasn't built with them in mind."

Many disabled Wisconsin residents can undoubtedly relate.

If you would like to learn more about disability insurance, please visit our La Crosse Social Security disability site.

Source: Superior Telegram, "Scant progress on jobs for disabled Americans," Jennifer C. Kerr, March 25, 2013

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