More people with disabilities are getting jobs. Here’s why.

CNN Money highlights NOD Corporate Leadership Council member EY for their innovative approach to solving talent shortages by recruiting people with disabilities. 

In June 2017, Christopher Morris started work as an associate at Ernst & Young.

The 36-year-old is one of 14 people in the professional services firm’s “neurodiversity” program, which hires people on the autism spectrum to work on its accounting and analytics projects.

Over the next three years, Ernst & Young plans to bring dozens more people like Morris on board.

“We need the talent wherever we can get it. Whichever way it’s packaged. There is a shortage, particularly in our skills areas,” said Lori Golden, who is leading the charge at EY to hire more people with disabilities.


It’s not just Ernst & Young. With unemployment at a low 4.1%, fewer people are looking for jobs. As a result, many employers are having a hard time finding people qualified to fill the positions they have open.


That’s left an opening for people with disabilities, a group that’s broadly defined under the Americans With Disabilities Act. In addition to individuals with physical disabilities such as blindness, it also includes people who are struggling with addiction or have epilepsy, to name a few examples.


This demographic has always been underemployed. But Americans with disabilities have posted year-over-year gains in the job market for the past 21 consecutive months, according to an analysis by the Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire.


“This is indicative of the economy reaching full employment, and employers reaching out to groups that they traditionally don’t reach out to,” said Andrew Houtenville, research director of the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability.


Economic circumstances have helped speed up a broader cultural shift that’s been underway since the ADA became law in 1990.


Since then, businesses have started to talk about diversity as a value-add. A growing number of firms include people with disabilities in that discussion, said Janet Bruckshen, executive director of Washington Vocational Services, which works to match individuals with disabilities with employers who are hiring.


Economists and advocates for people with disabilities say a Labor Department rule change under the Obama administration has also helped spur the change. In 2013, the agency issued a provision requiring all federal contractors try to fill 7% of their workforce with individuals with disabilities.

Bruckshen said her organization used to pitch businesses by telling them that hiring someone with a disability is the right thing to do. Now, the script has evolved.


“It’s a business perspective. We go in and say retention is stronger for people with disabilities,” Bruckshen said.


Golden said that Ernst & Young believes it can produce better work by giving people with disabilities a seat at the table.


“By bringing people in who think differently, you’re bringing people in who look at problems differently,” Golden said.


For Morris, who works in Dallas, it’s meant building a career. He said he intends to stay at EY for the long term.


“I majored in computer science in college and I’ve always wanted to work in the tech sector. I’m really excited that I have now the opportunity to develop that expertise,” he said.


Technology has also made it easier for companies to channel changing attitudes into actual hiring. Remote work has become more common, and a greater number of processes are computerized in industries like manufacturing.


“Automation has taken away some of the barriers that may have prohibited someone with a physical disability from working in a steel mill,” Mary Daly, executive vice president and director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, said in an interview last week. A lot of heavy work can now be done with the push of a button, she said.


These factors have collectively created a more hospitable environment for people with disabilities looking for work.


Danny Goodisman, 43, was hired as a contractor at Boeing in August 2017 after spending two years looking for work in the Seattle area.

“Paying bills is less painful,” said Goodisman, who has a rare degenerative disease that requires him to use a wheelchair. “Beyond that, a job is a big part of a person’s identity. Now I can introduce myself as a programmer.”


That sentiment was echoed by Cooper Marx, a 25-year-old who lives in Arlington, Massachusetts. He’s a brain tumor survivor who was hired at a local Whole Foods in October 2017.


Marx said the store lets him work four-hour shifts, which is the currently maximum amount of time he can stay on his feet.


“They were very willing to be accommodating,” he said.


Despite these gains, the gap between employed people with disabilities and the general population remains sizable.


When looking at employment for people with disabilities, economists typically look at the proportion of the working age population with jobs, or the employment-to-population ratio, instead of the unemployment rate.


The employment-to-population ratio for working age people with disabilities hit 30.8% in December 2017. For working age people without disabilities, it was 73.3%.


But experts say the current job market could yield improvements.


“This is a moment,” said Carol Glazer, president of the National Organization on Disability.


Read article on CNN Money.

This self-driving shuttle puts accessibility first

Accessible Olli was designed from the ground up to help people with disabilities get where they need to go.

By Ben Fox Rubin | January 26, 2018 5:00 AM PST

Jay Rogers stood a few feet from his company’s futuristic-looking shuttle bus, called the Accessible Olli.

The all-electric, partially 3D-printed, autonomous vehicle, sitting in the middle of the bustling Las Vegas Convention Center during the CES tech show, packs features to help people with disabilities and the elderly get around.

There’s a retractable wheelchair ramp, software that can process sign language, and displays inside offering simplified information and reminders for people with cognitive disabilities like memory loss.

“We did this with a lens of of accessibility to show that what people would’ve called niche can lead,” Rogers, the radio-announcer-voiced CEO and co-founder of Local Motors, said earlier this month while wearing a bow tie and a zip-up Local Motors jacket.

The bus, which Rogers said will be on the road in a few months in places including Copenhagen and Buffalo, New York, offers a new approach to mass transit, in which a driverless shuttle could someday pick you up at any hour of the day and you wouldn’t need to own a car. It’s part of a broader trend of companies dabbling in self-driving vehicles as a new form of transportation. At CES, Toyota unveiled its e-Palette autonomous shuttle, while the French company Navya is manufacturing the Arma shuttle, too.

The difference with the Accessible Olli is that it can provide many more capabilities to help people with disabilities get to work, attend school or do errands. And it may be able to do all that much faster than a typical bus system or paratransit service. It may also address transportation needs that have been overlooked, since the shuttle was developed with the input of people with disabilities.

The nonprofit National Organization on Disability, which has been tracking the gaps between people with and without disabilities since the 1980s, said it’s found that transportation options are often lacking for people with disabilities, which results in severely limited job opportunities for them.

“We are eager to learn more about the Accessible Olli because it seems to have the potential to close that pervasive gap,” NOD President Carol Glazer said in a statement. “We particularly like that the shuttle was designed by people with disabilities, for people with disabilities.”

Hannah Rankin, director of growth at Incight, which help people with disabilities with their education and employment, said many public bus and light rail systems offer wheelchair ramps and scheduled routes, which can be useful. But people can’t expect every bus driver to know sign language. That’s where the Olli may be able to provide more uniformity to help people communicate, Rankin said.

On the CES show floor, Rogers walked me through the compact Accessible Olli. Inside, digital displays fill nearly every inch of window, showing map directions and messages to prospective passengers, like “Katherine, this is your stop.” There’s cushy seating all around that fits up to 10 people. But most noticeably, the interior looks something like a tiny room, not a vehicle, since there’s no steering wheel or space for a driver.

The first iteration of the Olli shuttle, which doesn’t have accessibility features, debuted in June 2016. Local Motors, which was founded in 2007 and recently moved its headquarters from the Phoenix area to San Francisco, used crowdsourcing to work with more than 200,000 volunteer designers, engineers and customers to create the Accessible Olli. The startup also partnered with IBM and the charitable arm of the Consumer Technology Association, which runs CES, on the project.

IBM built its Watson artificial intelligence software into Olli to communicate with passengers and hopes to use Olli as a way to bring its AI into more people’s lives and show the software’s benefits.

“When you get in a car that doesn’t have a driver, you have to establish trust, so you need to know that Olli understands what you want and it gives you feedback along the way,” Bret Greenstein, IBM’s vice president of the Watson Internet of Things business, told me earlier by the Olli. “We have to make Olli, or any other self-driving car, feel like a trusted driver.”

Ideally, the things IBM and Local Motors learn from helping people with disabilities will benefit anyone using an Olli.

“My hope, as we continue to learn about all the accessibility use cases, is we’re learning all the other ways we can better understand people and support them,” Greenstein said. “People shouldn’t have to learn how to talk to machines.”


Read the article on CNET.

Is Your Company Using These 5 Critical Practices to Increase Disability Self-Identification Rates?

The 2017 NOD Disability Employment Tracker results reveal the practices of top companies to achieve a disability workforce representation of four percent or more.

The 2018 Disability Employment Tracker™ is now open for enrollment. Complete the free and confidential survey by March 1, 2018 to receive a complimentary benchmarking Scorecard.

Completion of the Tracker is a requirement to be considered for the 2018 DiversityInc Top 50 and to compete for the 2018 NOD Leading Disability Employer SealStart today:

More and more American businesses share a goal to increase the number of employees with disabilities within their workforce, driven by motivators like competition for top talent, achieving a competitive advantage through diversity, compliance with federal regulations, or all three. As a result, increasing disability self-identification rates among new and existing employees with disabilities has become a priority to many human resources and diversity & inclusion teams.

Yet, at the National Organization on Disability (NOD), we’ve seen that despite making strides in implementing disability inclusion policies and practices—many companies still struggle to see their percentage of employees who identify as having disabilities rise.

So, as we analyzed the data gained from our 2017 Disability Employment Tracker™, the National Organization on Disability’s confidential, annual survey of corporate disability inclusion policies and practices, we aimed to find out what differentiates companies that have been successful at building disability-strong workforces from those that have not.

As we pored over the 2017 Disability Employment Tracker™ results, which measure practices and outcomes of more than 175 companies that together employ more than 10 million workers, across a range of industries, we sought to discover what companies with an above average percentage of employees had in common.

We uncovered five practices shared by high achieving companies that reported a disability workforce representation of 4% or more:

Companies with a higher than average representation of people with disabilities (> 4%) share these practices. Strategy & Metrics: Senior leaders discuss/publicly promote overall diversity; Plan for improving disability inclusion practices; Diversity champion accountable to drive disability strategy. Culture & Climate: Employee/business resource groups or affinity groups; Disability-specific employee/business resource group with annual budget. Talent Sourcing: Recruiters know how to find accommodation process. People Practices: Post-offer and pre-employment, new hires asked if accommodation needed. Workplace & Technology: Universal design principles applied in new facility buildouts.

  1. Strategy & Metrics. Senior leaders discuss and publicly promote overall diversity. Further, they have a plan of action for improving disability inclusion practices that is driven by a disability champion who is accountable to advance this strategy.
  2. Climate & Culture. Priority is given to creating employee/business resource or affinity groups that are specific to disability. Moreover—and this is critical—these groups have annual budgets that allow them to take visible and impactful action.
  3. Recruiter Training. Recruiters, who are on the front line in the pursuit of employees with disabilities, are trained in, and know how to find and use the company’s accommodation process. This helps ensure candidates gain access to the supports needed to be successful and land the job.
  4. People Practices. HR teams are trained to proactively ask new hires if they need an accommodation in the post-offer and pre-employment stages. This ensures that there are no gaps in providing support to employees with disabilities from day one, and goes a long way to protect the employee experience. These “moments of truth” can make or break how the employee feels about their new employer, which, ultimately, affect retention and turnover rates.
  5. Workplace & Technology. As new facilities are built, universal design principles, a set of guidelines that ensure environments, processes, policies, technologies and tools work for people of every ability, are routinely applied.

Companies struggling to attract and keep talent with disabilities should reexamine their efforts against these key practices, which the Tracker results found are correlated to successful workforce outcomes, to identify opportunities for improvement. Without this foundation, companies may struggle to see disability self-identification rates rise.

While the research does show a lot of effort and hard work on the part of employers to advance disability inclusion practices, ultimately, we are not seeing significant increases in disability inclusion in the American workforce. On average, we found the workforce representation of people with disabilities was 3.2%—well below the target of 7% set by the Department of Labor for those companies that do business with the federal government. When you consider that one in five Americans has a disability, the gap is striking.

Admittedly, finding the right workers in any labor pool—especially one not yet fully familiar to many employers—may demand some skills and types of effort that are out of the ordinary. Recruiters and hiring managers need to know where to source this talent, and how to address the needs of candidates with disabilities in the pre-offer stage.

A cross-departmental effort, including representatives from IT, Facilities, Legal and HR, is needed to provide comprehensive accommodations in a reasonable amount of time, so employees with disabilities can be successful on the job. Most importantly, leaders must create a culture of trust and open communication to engender a spirit of ‘disability pride’ where employees with disabilities feel welcomed and supported in order to perform, produce and progress. Doing so, will create an employee cohort that will surely be among the most engaged, committed and productive.

The National Organization on Disability, the national leader in helping business tap the disability labor pool, offers companies a complete set of solutions, including benchmarking, program design and planning, and customized local hiring engagements. Our employment experts make the journey with companies, from initial exploration through stage after stage of improvement, all the way to success.

We’ve partnered with over a dozen Fortune 500 companies, like EYKaiser PermanentePrudential Financial, PwCSodexo, and Toyota to help them advance their disability inclusions efforts to the next level.

For American businesses that prioritize disability inclusion the benefits are many. Employees with disabilities are a rich supply of talent, ready to be tapped, at a time when talent is at a premium, and the employers who hire from this pool consistently rank employees with disabilities among their best, most dedicated workers, with some of the lowest rates of turnover.

Furthermore, research has shown that the vast majority of consumers prefer to buy from companies who hire people with disabilities, and Americans with disabilities and their friends and families constitute a huge and growing consumer segment with over $3.9 trillion in disposable income.

To start the free and confidential Disability Employment Tracker™ today, visit


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Are You Missing Out on Key Talent On Campus?

There are 4.7 million college students with disabilities, but only 25% are employed. Here’s 6 tips to recruit students with disabilities on campus: 1. Prepare your recruiters; 2. Create Alternative Applications; 3. Showcase Disability Inclusion; 4. Target On Campus Activities; 5. Tap Existing Networks; 6. Build Partner Relationship; National Organization on Disability logo

The race for talent is on. With the retirement of baby boomers and the increasing importance of knowledge workers in the economy, demand for skilled talent is at an all-time high.

College students and graduates with disabilities comprise a talent pool that can fill the gap for employers seeking skilled, motivated employees. An estimated 4.7 million college graduates nationwide have a disclosed disability, yet only 25% of them are employed—compared to 76% of their non-disabled peers (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015).

Avoid missing out on these candidates by fine-tuning your recruitment practices to target this group. Practices to consider:

  • Prepare Your Recruiters. Do your front-line staff know how to communicate with a computer science student who is deaf and her interpreter or understand respectful body language when speaking with an engineering student who uses a wheelchair? Invest in training on disability etiquette and disability employment needs for your recruiters to give students a positive experience when interacting with your company.
  • Taking Applications? Make sure your company’s online applications and your jobs website is Section 508/WCAG 2.0 accessible.
  • Showcase your commitment to disability inclusion. Feature people with disabilities and accommodations resources available to employees in brochures, leave-behind materials, and on your website.
  • Target your on-campus activities. Collaborate with campus career and disability student services offices to sponsor recruiting events and career workshops targeted to students with disabilities.
  • Tap into existing networks to reach candidates. Share employment opportunities through existing communications channels reaching students with disabilities, such as the disability services office’s email list or student-led disability advocacy groups.
  • Build relationships with partners. Establish relationships with partners, like National Organization on Disability’s Campus to Careers program that is connecting college graduates with disabilities to hiring employers. NOD’s Professional Services can provide the guidance and support to help your company advance its disability inclusion strategy.