As National Disability Employment Awareness Month comes to a close, New Yorkers are contending there is more to do beyond October.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is double that of those without disabilities.
Sharon McLennon-Wier, executive director of the Center for the Independence of the Disabled-New York, explained workers with disabilities face numerous challenges on the job. She said in many workplaces, certain stigmas and “able-ism” still exist.
“For some reason, if you don’t have a disability, and you come across someone who has an obvious disability — meaning that you can see it, it’s not a hidden disability — you say to yourself that initial thought of, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe that they’re doing A, B, and C,’ because you can’t fathom how that would be if you had that same situation,” McLennon-Wier observed.
Other challenges include making sure businesses understand the Americans with Disabilities Act, and how to provide their employees with disabilities what is needed to perform their jobs. She added training and education for companies helps them better understand how to make a workplace accessible.
McLennon-Wier believes there are persistent misconceptions about working with a disability. As a blind woman, she has encountered some of them in her professional life.
“A person with a disability may work slower, or they’re not as efficient, or they’re not an ‘expert’ in their field,” McLennon-Wier outlined. “There’s a lot of preconceived notions that the person may not be as good a worker in comparison to a person without a disability.”
She noted of course, these are all myths. And her group wants employers to know employees with disabilities, in a positive and accessible work environment, can have greater longevity with a company, and the same compassion and desire as any other worker to do the best possible job.
Edwin is a reporter and producer in North Tonawanda, New York. He’s previously reported for the Niagara Gazette and the Ithaca Times. Edwin got an early start in radio interning for WBFO-88.7FM, NPR’s Buffalo affiliate. In 2018, he graduated from SUNY Buffalo State College with a B.A. in Journalism, and in 2022, graduated from Syracuse University with an M.S. in Communications.