Senator Harkin On The Future For Incapacity Inclusion

PHILADELPHIA, PA – JULY 26: Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) gives a speech on the second day of … [+] National Democratic Convention at the Wells Fargo Center on July 26, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Paul Morigi / WireImage)


It is time to end the mass exclusion of 15% of the world’s population with a disability. This mass exclusion cannot be left to governments and charities alone; it needs the most powerful force on the planet, corporate governance. CEOs make decisions and decisions create cultures.

Senator Harkin is all too familiar with this, as he was instrumental in enforcing the Disabled Americans Act, which turned 30 earlier this year. Most recently, he worked with President-elect Joe Biden to help draft the Incoming Administrations Disability Policy Statement.

In addition, Senator Harkin founded the Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Citizen Engagement, a non-partisan institute, to pursue the political issues to which he has dedicated his career, including issues of disability inclusion.

Is he satisfied with the progress that has been made over the past three decades since this important ADA piece of legislation came into effect?

“Yes, but measured. There were four goals of the Disabled Americans Act: full participation, equal opportunities, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency. The last one relates to employment and jobs.

Photo of 3 people holding signs during the 5th Disability Pride March in New York.  It says on the signs

MADISON SQUARE PARK, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES – 7/14/2019: New York celebrated its fifth year … [+] Disability Pride with a colorful parade that runs from Madison Square Park to Union Square Park. The event promotes inclusion, awareness and visibility of people with disabilities and redefines the public perception of disabilities. (Photo by Erik McGregor / LightRocket via Getty Images)

LightRocket via Getty Images

“We did the first three pretty well. We have seen physical barriers being dismantled everywhere in our country, places are more accessible, whether they are theaters or sports stadiums, restaurants or companies. Education has also opened up opportunities.

“But the only place where we haven’t really made much progress and that dampens my happiness a little is unemployment. The unemployment rate for adults with disabilities is almost as high today as it was 30 years ago. And when you talk about the future, that’s what we need to focus on. We have come a long way in terms of independence and participation. The final frontier is competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. “

It is not just the unemployment rate for people with disabilities, rights and equality for workers with disabilities that need to be viewed critically. The law explicitly allows employers to pay workers with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage of $ 7.25 – a result of a section of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

So, while there has been some progress in the past three decades, what are we not doing right and what should we be doing differently to really make the critical changes needed?

“A number of factors. On the business side, the lack of adequate human reach plays a key role. They have some kind of cookie cutter approach to finding people to see if you fit into a certain shape – and their approach hasn’t helped reach the disabled community and get them to sign up for those jobs apply.

“I also think employers fear that people with disabilities who hire people with disabilities have to comply with these rules and regulations. If they screw it up, they’ll be brought to justice and sued. Much of it is misinformation and incomprehension. “

Harkin believes that the future work-from-home work regime sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic has the potential to open up all possible opportunities for people with disabilities – but to be successful in that regard, that new regime requires changes or modifications in the law.

“For example, ADA needs reasonable accommodation. In order for a person with a disability to work from home, they need high-speed internet. Who pays for it, who uses it as appropriate accommodation? To me, this is either part of government and part of business, or it could all be a business. “

There is also a clear business model for companies to employ people with disabilities, another aspect that Harkin is incredibly passionate about. People with disabilities make a huge contribution to the productivity and diversity of experiences and thoughts of their employers – which gives their companies a competitive advantage.

“We have a lot of data to show that people with disabilities, who in turn receive appropriate adjustments and support, are more productive than people without disabilities. Accenture has conducted a long-term study over five years and has companies that employ people with disabilities and those that do not. And guess what? The companies that employed people with disabilities had better profits and better incomes than those that did not.

I think we’ve seen some data in the past from companies that may have had a line of products and hiring people with disabilities gives them better insight. “

From a management perspective, what must Harkin do to ensure that the inclusion of people with disabilities is fully embedded in the company’s supply chain? He particularly highlights the role they can play in the educational system by teaching inclusion and inclusivity from early childhood.

“I think private sector companies need to reach out to their local communities. All of the people who work for them go to different schools and could be a lightning rod, a promoter in our schools, to teach this kind of inclusivity, in our education system. “

America stands at a point in history when we look at Biden’s new presidency – and Harkin hopes the new administration could mark a turning point for America as an inclusive society.

“I think he has the ability to bring us together. I believe with this administration we can start to change some things like Medicaid that are allowing more people to go to work and that we are making better investments in developing the workforce for people with disabilities in America to make sure that we do a much better job of bringing companies together to discuss and promote this full inclusion idea. We want to set ourselves the goal of doubling the employment rate of people with disabilities in the next ten years. Finally, I believe that, together with the rest of the world, we can sign the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. “

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