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Disability Action Center NW

Diversity Includes Disability

Ladan Nikravan  –  3/29/11
People with disabilities add to the variety of viewpoints needed to be successful in business today.

Businesses are required to make reasonable accommodations for disabled employees based on the law. But they’re not required to make the effort to understand these individuals’ unique qualities and assets. People with disabilities have varied experiences that can enhance a company’s culture and acquaint the organization with diverse client bases. The various forms of disabilities should first be understood and then embraced through inclusion strategies to help an organization succeed in an increasingly diverse environment.

Under President George H.W. Bush, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to protect workers with disabilities from discrimination. The law was amended in 2008 by President George W. Bush to expand the definition of disability after employees with impairments such as multiple sclerosis and major depression reported that they were not considered to be disabled, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
On March 25, the EEOC published the final revised regulations in the Federal Register, the daily publication for rules, proposed rules and notices of the federal government. Filling 202 pages, these regulations implement the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 and change how the definition of disability is interpreted: a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Under the new regulations, an impairment can qualify as a disability even if it occurs periodically, like epilepsy, and even if it does not prevent a person from conducting a major life activity such as self-care, walking or communicating.
According to the Office of Disability Employment, as of February 2011, 20.6 percent of people in the workforce have a disability.
“It’s so easy for us as human beings to be comfortable with people who have the same interests as we do and behave very similarly to the way we behave,” said Sharon Birkman, president and CEO of Birkman International. “When we think of diversity, we immediately think ethnicity, age and gender. We think of diversity in terms of outward parts that can easily be seen as opposed to the inner individual.”