Arkansas Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities

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Reflecting on National Disability Employment Awareness Month

An Inch Away: Opening the Glass Door to a Better Workforce
By Jon Taylor

(Adapted from an Op Ed that ran in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on 10/21/21)

The CDC reports that 35% of Adult Arkansans – one out of three – live with disabilities, which is nearly 10% higher than the national average. This means that a large part of our state’s workforce can be characterized by this population and I believe eliminating these barriers is vital for the future of our state and economy.

Inclusive hiring and inclusive workplaces drive competitive, integrated employment. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and while we all know it takes more than one month to break down the barriers that exist around employment for people with disabilities, we can start the conversation.

When we discuss barriers, some are physical, like accessible workplaces; some are mental, like unconscious bias or blatant discrimination; and some are systemic, like inaccessible application processes or outdated job descriptions.

This is why Arkansas has many organizations in place working hard to eliminate the obstacles that people with developmental disabilities (DD) encounter. Arkansas Rehabilitation Services (ARS) offers career education services to prepare Arkansans with disabilities to work and lead productive and independent lives. Other organizations like ACCESS Schools work with Arkansas youth with disabilities to empower them to succeed throughout adulthood. Businesses like Union Pacific have committed to creating an inclusive culture through diverse and equitable hiring practices.

The Arkansas Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities works to improve the independence and productivity of Arkansans with intellectual and developmental disabilities and to ensure their integration and inclusion into communities across the state. This year, we are honoring National Disability Employment Awareness Month with a statewide disability inclusion survey open to all Arkansas-based employers. This survey will shed light on business’s hiring practices and uncover the hurdles they face when hiring inclusively, which will help us better align our current and future resources to meet these needs.

Without statewide efforts like these or companies implementing inclusive and equitable hiring practices, we are creating even more hurdles for individuals with DD. At the end of the day, we also create more than a metaphoric glass ceiling – we are creating a glass door. With glass doors, both sides can see each other clearly but are separated by a mere inch of glass. Everyone on the outside can see what everyone on the inside has and they would like to have that, too. Prior to many misperceptions, employees with disabilities don’t expect things to be simply handed to them; they want the chance to come inside and work for it just like everyone else.

Not only is hiring more inclusively the right thing to do, but it is also a good business decision. In this unprecedented job market, where good employees are hard to find and even harder to keep, retention is a blessing. Studies show that long-term employees have situational experience, refined skills and institutional memory that can help support revenue. In the United States, employees with a disability have an average attrition rate of 15% meaning that the likelihood of that employee staying at their job for at least one year is 85%. When you look at today’s service-based job market that offers many careers in fast food, hospitality and retail, the average turnover rates for those three industries are 50%, 60%, and 59%, respectively. And those rates are pre-COVID. Comparing these numbers to the attrition rate of employees with disabilities, they are far more likely to stay in a role, gain experience, build skills and become a valuable part of any team.

In the spirit of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, make your plan for action throughout the rest of the year. By completing our disability inclusion survey, employers across the state will have a chance to reflect on their current hiring practices. If you are on the other side of the glass door, let someone in by interviewing qualified candidates with a disability. There are resources to support businesses that take on initiatives to create and grow more diverse workplaces in the Natural State, and we want to encourage you to give diverse employees the same chance you would offer any other applicant.

Open the door. Actually – let’s break it.

Employer Survey Open Through 12/31/2021

Complete our employment survey now through December 31, 2021. To take the survey, click on this link:

About the Arkansas Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities

The Council is a federally funded state agency that promotes integration, inclusion and independence for Arkansans with developmental disabilities. Council members are self-advocates, relatives and/or caregivers of individuals with DD, state agency directors, and representation from nonprofit and private organizations. The Council works to encourage self-advocacy; to remove barriers to information, services and support; to advocate for policy changes; to develop and support coalitions; and to educate community leaders. For more information about the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities and its mission, browse more pages on this website, or call 501-682-2897. Follow the Council on Facebook and Twitter @gcddar. You can also find Arkansas GCDD on YouTube.