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Diversity and Disability

October 21, 2010

It's National Disability Employment Awareness Month. I have many faults, but one of which is while I try to preach the advantages of diversity in the workplace I'm probably a lot more narrow minded than I think. I know, with my brain and my heart, that a more diverse team/group/company breeds success and innovation. But I'll admit to having the first images in my mind after the word diversity be a mix of races, ethnicity and gender and its taken a good amount of education by people whom I respect immensely to remember the disabled.
In some ways, they are the invisible members of our society. Overlooked and ignored, when we talk about rights we don't often think of the rights of the disabled. But if we know more diversity is better than we know it's as important to champion the rights of the disabled as it is to stand up for anyone else.
So I've already mentioned my general ignorance, but the other important thing for me is that I'm an engineer. I like to see technology make people's lives better. Certainly there have been social improvements in the lives of the disabled and that's what we need to take into account when we're trying to recruit a diverse staff, retain good employees, or just to have as standard commitments in the employment world. But there have also been technological improvements. The semi-obvious: improving mobility, as well as the less obvious: better treatments for chronic conditions, lighter and more flexible implant devices. Chances are we all know somebody who's life is touched by disability, whether it's an obvious physical manifestation or not. The law grants us some basic protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) but we can do better. We know the law is the low pole in the tent, that basic protections for other categories of people only work when there is a concentrated effort from society to improve itself. One person at a time.
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