Workforce Inclusion and Talent: Changing the Disability Paradigm

with Carol Glazer of the National Organization on Disability

In 2018, the unemployment rate for those with a disability was more than twice the rate of those without. How can employers build a more inclusive workforce?

Carol Glazer, President of the National Organization on Disability, discusses efforts to ensure people with disabilities live a well-rounded life, including access to meaningful employment.

Posted on:

Oct 07, 2019

Hosted by: Sheila Hyland
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Hyland: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2018 unemployment rate for Americans with disabilities was more than twice the rate of those without. To address the gap, some employers are taking on apprenticeships to connect workers of all abilities with hands on training and a steady paycheck. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Sheila Hyland. The apprenticeship model is becoming increasingly adopted among employers seeking to discover and build new talent pipelines. Joining me to talk about apprenticeships is Josh Christianson, co-director of PEAT, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology. Josh, thank you for being our guest today.

Christianson: Thank you for having me, Sheila.

Hyland: So, we have this huge untapped workforce of people with disabilities who are unemployed or often underemployed, and it has to do oftentimes with that lack of accessibility to technology. Tell us about the issue and what's going on.

Christianson: Sure. So, sometimes people when they think accessible technology, they mean do they have access to technology itself. Do they have Wi-Fi or Internet? That's not what we're talking about. We're talking about people that have the technology but they can't use it. So, accessible technology is something that's designed and built, programmed and coded in such a way that multiple people of multiple abilities can tailor it and use it as they want.

Hyland: Can you give us some examples of that.

Christianson: Sure. So, you know, a smartphone is a primary example. So, those are built and designed with all kinds of accessibility features that you and I may never use or we may use as we get older and need them, but for different people of different abilities, whether it's a visual or hearing or different cognitive disabilities, even motor abilities, these have built-in features that they can change the settings and thus use it the way they need to access the information.

Hyland: I know that PEAT is an advocate of universal design. What are we talking about when we mention universal design and how does that play into this?

Christianson: Yeah. So, some people when they think of universal design, they think of physical space. So, a museum might be designed that has different ways to enter and exit. That might suit different people of different abilities or wheelchairs.] We're talking about the Internet. We're talking about software, and so what it means is, those landscapes are built and designed in a way that all sorts of people can enter and or exit and use it in a way that works for them. So, just like I was saying with a smartphone, some people may need to click a certain type of preference that they could use that would help them use the technology, read the Internet, click a button. And so we want it designed and built that way so that people can choose what option and interface that works best for them.

Hyland: Alright. So, we talked in the intro about this pilot program. It's an apprenticeship program that PEAT is running. Tell us about the pilot program and why this is so different than other programs that are out there already.

Christianson: Sure. So, across the nation in the United States, there's a big move towards apprenticeships but also towards the areas we need them. Traditionally, it's manufacturing, construction, these type of things. But we in this world need more technical workers, people that understand how to program, code, design around technology. And so we know we need to train workers there, and we're going to need those programs and those -- There's usually a learning component as well as a working component. Those need to be built, designed to utilize technology that people with disabilities can use. So what we're doing is, we're piloting with a few leading companies around the U.S. to help them design their already existing apprenticeship programs to make them what's called "inclusive," that they're designed in a way that people disabilities can access them, participate, and thrive within them.

Hyland: And they're getting paid for these apprenticeships. I mean, this is not an internship.

Christianson: Correct. People often say "Earn while you learn," or, "Learn while you earn." They get the skills that the company needs. So, it's not just something broad. A company right now is hiring for a specific technological need. They get trained in that skill a little before they go to the job. Then they're at the job learning while the company is training them, building the skills they need, teaching them about the culture of the company so when they finish a program, they're ready to roll, and the yield, the hiring rate, for apprenticeships is extremely high because companies are already -- they've already been trained for exactly what they need.

Hyland: So, where do you see this program going? This is the pilot program, and it's exciting.

Christianson: It is. I think apprenticeships will be increasingly utilized in the United States for workers. If you look at especially technology, I think there's something like -- and these numbers are rough, but you'll get the point -- 500,000 jobs are open. We have a need in the United States that are around technology, and there's something like 30,000, 40,000 people graduating from college every year with a computer science degree. That's not going to cut it. So, apprenticeships are gonna grow as it relates to technology and the great part of this is, we're going to take what we learned from this pilot, apply it to what's going to be a growing field so that they're already inclusive of people with disabilities so that companies can recruit more talent, retain more talent, and more individuals themselves can tap into their skills and talents and give those to the workforce, to the country, and have a steady job.

Hyland: Yeah, get people with disabilities employed with meaningful employment.

Christianson: Correct.

Hyland: Josh Christensen, thank you so much for being our guest today.

Christianson: My pleasure.

Hyland: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation. visit I'm Sheila Hyland.

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