I have seen so many great things this year at Bender Consulting Services that encourage me about the future for people with disabilities. We saw an increase for our services in recruitment, digital accessibility, our software product iDisability and management consulting. An increased demand for employing people with disabilities in competitive employment is something that really excites me, but we still have a long way to go in this country.

A powerful study was released by Accenture on October 29th, at the New York Stock Exchange, “Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage.” The American Association of People with Disabilties and Disability:IN, together produce the Disability Equality Index (DEI), a benchmarking tool for companies to use, every year to demonstrate disability inclusion. Accenture did this study pro bono after Ted Kennedy, Jr. asked them if they would conduct a study to show the difference between companies that embrace the DEI and those that do not.

There was a startling result of the study, that I believe every CEO will be impacted by in a powerful way. The study showed data that companies that participate in the DEI, as Champions of Disability Inclusion and Employment have the following results:

The 45 companies that Accenture identified as standing out for their leadership in areas specific to disability employment and inclusion had, on average over the four-year period, 28 percent higher revenue, double the net income and 30 percent higher economic profit margins than the other companies in the DEI. Accenture analysis also revealed that U.S. GDP could get a boost of up to US$25 billion if more persons with disabilities joined the labor force. In a recent New York Times article, Ted stated that, “Once companies are aware of these potential economic benefits, they should be motivated to bring persons with disabilities into the work force to thrive as never before.”

For years, I have told companies and agencies that hiring people with disabilities is not charity; it is a good business decision. How exciting it is to have this concrete data.  The good news for 2019, I believe, as Ted said, that there will be an increase in employment after CEOs see these powerful results. I know with double the unemployment rate of the non-disabled, as I stated, we have a long way to go: this is a good start.

2019 also saw a greater need for training, evidence by the increased sales of our software e-learning product, iDisability. With companies like Wells Fargo, Cox Communication, Northrup Grumman and many others, I see a positive move for inclusion. If corporations and agencies do not understand communicating with people with disabilities, they will not hire people with disabilities Many great candidates with disabilities, such as Autism, are not hired because companies and agencies do not understand the person may interview differently and may then be rejected as a potential hire. What a huge mistake! 

Talent should be the only discriminator When you make the choice to not hire people with disabilities you are missing out on a great untapped talent pool. If you want to learn more about iDisability; check out our website www.benderconsult.com. Remember, education overcomes stigma, breaks down barriers, increases self-identification of a disability and the employment of people with disabilities in all areas, including STEM positions. At Bender Consulting Services, we also saw an increase for our digital accessibility services, in our HighTest Division.

We have been doing this work for over a decade in all industries. It is amazing to me that there are still federal contractors who do not realize or ignore regulations that demand accessibility. How can someone apply for a position if they cannot apply. How can someone work at company or agency if the applications are not accessible? Inclusion means universal design and that means accessibility for every employee, whether the person is blind or deaf or has a learning disability or mobility issues. Jenny Lay- Flurrie, the Chief Accessibility Officer from Microsoft and Chair of the Board of Disability:IN says “If you have to ask if your website is accessible—it is not.”

The request for management consulting by corporations this year really increased. Many federal contractors have called our company to request consulting services to help build a strategic plan for disability inclusion. My very close friend, Bob O’Hara said, “it is not about hiring one hundred people with disabilities in a multi-billion-dollar company and it is done. It is about evaluating processes, looking at marketing, accessibility, accommodations training, employment and inclusion as part of social responsibility.” It is also about participating in the DEI.

We launched the Bender Leadership Academy this year! A not-for-profit that prepares high school students with disabilities to succeed in the workforce. We teach students leadership skills, standing up to bullies, community engagement, and ending stigma in their lives. It is very personal to me, because I have been teaching the Academy for over 19 years on a volunteer basis. I love young people with disabilities and want to see them believe in what they can do--not what they cannot do.

According to the Hechinger Report in November 2017, after graduation, high school students with disabilities have lower graduation rates than their peers and earn less once they enter the workforce. We must raise the bar. I believe the Bender Leadership Academy, a national not-for profit, will demonstrate a noticeable difference and improvement in results.

Something very exciting to me has been the honor of representing our country, as an expert on the employment of people with disabilities, in various countries at the request of the US State Department. This year I spoke with my COO, Mary Brougher, in Japan and Kazakhstan at their universities, businesses, NGOs, at disability rights events and to other Embassy arranged meetings. The horrible situations for people with disabilities in these countries is heart-breaking. It is not about employment; it is about living and not being hidden. I met many wonderful people and I will not forget about them and will continue working to help them in any way I can.

To all of you, my employees, my colleagues in the disability community and corporate leaders, family and friends, I appreciate your support so much! You are all helping me make a difference in the lives of those left out. To all people with disabilities, do not give up, together we will make a difference. Let’s make 2019 the year of positive and substantial change in the disability community and in the business community. Remember, corporate and federal leaders, at the end of the day where the rubber meets the road is hiring people with disabilities.

In the words of the late great Justin Dart Jr., “Lead On!”

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