Americans with Disabilities: Act II

Dear Editor: The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed 10 years ago on July 26, 1990. This watershed bill gave people with disabilities the same rights our nation gives all people regardless of sex, race, religion or national origin. Yet, even after a decade as law, only the most visible barriers to achieving equality have fallen. In the workplace, behind an invisible curtain, another story still needs to be told. Of the 54 million Americans with disabilities, half are of an employable age. Seventy eight percent say they want to work, but less than a third find the doors of economic opportunity open to them. “We” as employers think employees with disabilities might not function as well as their able-bodied peers. Or worse yet, we believe “these people” probably don’t want to work. Perhaps we even think the cost of making the work place accessible to them would be too prohibitive. If we assume any of this, we would be wrong on every count. These presumptions cost the nation combined losses of nearly half a trillion dollars a year, of which $230 billion is spent supporting people with disabilities who want jobs but can’t find them, and another $195 billion in earnings and taxes that are never realized. It’s time for a new act, an act of education, understanding, acceptance and responsibility. American business, from the simplest shop on the corner to the largest corporations, must take a leadership role in putting individuals with disabilities to work. When we do, we’ll discover what many others already have: People with disabilities make great employees! Ninety percent of workers with disabilities receive employee ratings of good to excellent. Employees with disabilities have fewer absences than their co-workers. Seventy percent of those willing to work require no special equipment to perform effectively. And finally, the Internal Revenue Code provides significant tax deductions to businesses that make their facilities accessible to people with disabilities. Consider for a minute that Winston Churchill, Alexander Graham Bell, General George Patton, Franklin Roosevelt, Ludwig van Beethoven, Vincent van Gogh, Helen Keller, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and even Walt Disney, are just some of the people with disabilities who contributed their talent and genius to the betterment of all mankind, whether their disabilities were visible or not. Now think about all of the unsung workers, your neighbors, friends, classmates and even loved ones, who despite their disabilities, have impacted so positively on your life, your community and your nation. It is time to raise the invisible curtain on “Act II” of the Americans with Disabilities Act and give someone with a disability the opportunity for a job. The entire country will benefit from this responsible act. Jay H. Van Vechten Van Vaechten & Company


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