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On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law, prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities. To commemorate this milestone, the Chamber joined with the U.S. Business Leadership Network to put on an event aimed at promoting the inclusion of all individuals with different abilities in the workplace.
Legislators, activists, and representatives from major international companies met at the Chamber for the Global Disability Employment Summit.
Chamber President and CEO, Tom Donohue, kicked off the summit, noting that, thanks to the ADA, the U.S. has set the gold standard for the inclusion of people with different abilities:
Globally, there are many people with disabilities who are willing and able to work, but they don’t have the same accommodations that workers based in the United States do...Until other countries ensure that people with disabilities have access and opportunities to work and travel, we will always be limited in our ability to operate globally.
Remarks and panel conversations at the summit covered topics ranging from diversification of supply chains to methods for furthering inclusion both in the U.S. and abroad, each with the goal of promoting hiring globally.
In his keynote remarks, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) stressed the value of common sense practices in order to increase employment opportunities:
Work experience is the number one variable that predicts success for people with disabilities.
Keynote speaker Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) described the value of work in different terms:
A job is so much more than a paycheck. It’s what gives you purpose and dignity.
Panelists from various companies reinforced these messages, describing how they have created more inclusive workplaces with commonsense strategies that their organizations have implemented. Among them was making an office that is accessible for people of all different abilities. Additional strategies included holding collaborative discussions, providing proper training for workers, and implementing technology that is accessible for all employees.
The process of crafting these strategies includes working alongside and seeking feedback from agencies and actors who have experience with disability. Panelists noted that the most effective way to enact inclusive practices is to check their egos at the door and seek feedback from those who understand the issues best. Whether it be from employees, disability-owned businesses, or customers, their input informs inclusion.
Bank of America Private Wealth Management Managing Director of U.S. Trust Paula Kelly told the audience:
Everyone in our company needs to feel comfortable coming to work as their whole selves every single day.
Participants from other companies echoed this message, enforcing the ultimate goal of diversity inclusion: that employees feel accommodated and comfortable in their work environments.
Another theme that was pervasive throughout the event was that of cooperation. Nearly every speaker mentioned that he or she relied upon the ideas and practices of other companies to boost his or her organization’s approach to disability inclusion. President and CEO of Bender Consulting Services Joyce Bender commented, “Finding global talent is about collaboration.”
One of the issues in promoting disability inclusion abroad stems from the fact that the definition of “disability” varies from one country to another. Thus, different countries have different regulations when it comes to hiring people with different abilities. Individuals who work for U.S.-based companies with global presences shared that it’s crucial to change the culture surrounding disability in order to boost the number of people with disabilities in the workforce.
IBM Director of Global and Americas Diversity and Inclusion Rosalia Thomas offered role models as a means to influence culture:
If you can present a different reality, norms shift.
Acclaimed disability rights activist Judy Heumann closed out the event, impressing upon attendees the role they can play outside the U.S. She called on them to raise the issue of inclusion with chambers of commerce and embassies, noting that when America does something right, foreign actors recognize it. Heumann said:
U.S. leadership can make a dramatic difference.
The Global Disability Employment Summit was one example of that difference.