ADA: 24 Years and Still a Work In Progress

Fri, July 25, 2014

Even after 24 years since it was signed into law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is still having trouble gaining traction, especially regarding Title 1 which focuses on employment.

According to United Cerebral Palsy's 2014 "The Case for Inclusion" report, only 13 percent of people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities, including autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy, are currently employed in New York.

The U.S. federal government is offering tax credits to companies that hire people with disabilities. Among these tax credits is the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, which allows a company who "fills a vacant position with a WOTC-certified employee, the employer can become qualified to claim a federal income tax credit for a portion of the new employee's salary." (For more information, please visit: http://www.thinkbeyondthelabel.com/Blog/post/Making-Sense-of-Tax-Credits-for-Hiring-People-with-Disabilities.aspx)

This tax credit, among the others that are offered, has the noble aim of increasing the employment of people with disabilities, while providing employers with an incentive to save money on taxes by hiring people with disabilities. I am well aware that these incentives also help companies pay for reasonable accommodations for their employees with disabilities and especially in this economy, whatever helps those with disabilities should be embraced. Never mind that you have to wonder if companies (or at least some of them) are using the hiring of people with disabilities as simply a way to save money, instead of hiring people with disabilities to increase the diversity of their workforce.

What matters most is that people with disabilities should be hired on their merit and their willingness to work, not on the basis that employers can save on taxes. All of that aside, the fact remains that in the State of New York, it is not working. Looking at the data in the scorecard for New York by United Cerebral Palsy, the highest percentile of employment was 15 percent in 2004, in 2006, it dropped to its lowest at 12 percent and since 2009, it has remained at 13 percent.

The report ranks New York as the 5th best state in the country for people with disabilities. So given that, it makes no sense why companies are not hiring people with disabilities. Could it be the social concern that hiring people who are differently abled might upset customers? While that is understandable in some regard, after all people fear what they do not understand or have had no prior exposure to. However, it is up to employers who, if they claim to support diversity in the workforce to promote diversity of all types, not just the types they understand or are comfortable with. 

Elbert Hubbard said it best: "It is a fine thing to have ability, but the ability to discover ability in others is the true test."