Double. That’s the unemployment rate for people with disabilities compared to the rate of unemployment of those without disabilities. 12.9% versus 6.1%, according to June 2014 statistics from the United States Department of Labor.
In June of 2014, representatives from Easter Seals across the country went to Washington, D.C., to advocate for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act to help level the playing field and increase new opportunities. Claudia Gordon, the former Public Engagement Advisor for the Disability Community in the White House Office of Public Engagement, joined Easter Seals on June 23, 2014, in the Capitol to share her perspective and advice on the topic.
Having gone deaf overnight at the age of 8 while living in Jamaica, Claudia and her family moved to the United States shortly after she lost her hearing. Claudia grew up to become the first attorney who is a deaf African-American woman. She knows first-hand what it’s like to navigate the workforce with a disability. “There are a lot of laws in place protecting us from discrimination, but the reality is that discrimination is alive and well, and so you have to be an effective self-advocate,” she says.
Here are her top 3 tips for launching your career:
1. Start networking before you even start looking for a job. “You have to start identifying and putting into place your support network to help you navigate the complicated maze that is the workforce system. There are services in place, so although it’s a complicated workforce, you can put a support network in place.”
2. Learn self-advocacy skills. This spans from your ability to clearly promote your strengths—in writing and in interviews—to attracting a mentor who believes in you. Explain what you bring to the table that no one else can, and find someone who can vouch for you.
3. Follow a role model. “Today there are more role models and leaders with disabilities to look to. Compared to those with disabilities in the past, they didn’t have that. But now, there are so many people and [employment] resources available, so identify them early for yourself,” says Claudia.
For people without disabilities, there are simple ways you can support employment equality. Claudia recommends these ways:
1. Dialogue with more people, and talk about [employment equality] more often. "Promote awareness until this issue and all the barriers and misconceptions and misunderstandings are gone."
2. Bring people with disabilities into your workplace, even if it’s just a visit. Having someone in your office with a disability can help educate and raise awareness.
3. It may go without saying, but hire people with disabilities. "That’s the best way to raise awareness, to actually have a person with disabilities in your workplace, working next to you and others."