Increasing and Expanding Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities Worldwide
October 22, 2018 | Luanjiao (Aggie) Hu, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern
People with disabilities make up about 10 to 15 percent of the world population, according to the World Report on Disability. As a massive number of people, our community faces many challenges globally, in the realms of education, employment, health care, and relationships, among others. I am particularly invested in employment issues for people with disabilities for two reasons: 1) my work with the ADA International Fellowship Program on inclusive employment, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and administered by the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (my placement in the AAPD Summer Internship Program), and 2) a conversation I had with Dr. Richard Lytle, formerly of Gallaudet University and a social entrepreneur who is pushing inclusive employment for people with disabilities in China.
It is no news to many that people with disabilities have lower employment rates than those without disabilities globally. “The unemployment rate among adult Americans with disabilities who want to work and can work is over 60%! That is a blot on our national character,” commented Senator Tom Harkin at his farewell speech to the Senate. In some Asia-Pacific countries, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities is as high as over 80%. Researchers have documented the severity of the issue and the importance of employment, especially for marginalized populations. I myself have witnessed how employment discrimination takes place towards people with disabilities in China: a woman with physical disability applying for a software programmer position was denied the interview opportunity when she disclosed her disability to the potential employer; a deaf designer was turned down for a job because of the employer’s claim that their workplace requires a significant amount of verbal communication, despite his excellent designing skills; a person with disability is paid only half the amount a non-disabled coworker receives for the same position. The list of discriminatory examples goes on and on.
Increasing and expanding employment opportunities for people with disabilities is indeed a global concern. From Africa, to Asia, to the Americas, we face similar issues — albeit at slightly different severity levels based on our unique cultural and national contexts. Facilitating exchanges and conversations on best practices among leaders of inclusive employment between different countries, a practice exemplified by the ADA International Fellowship Program, is one of the many ways we can address this global issue. Using one’s multiple talents and network to embark on social enterprises like Communication Access (a business organization that works with multinational corporations in China to hire, train, and retain people with disabilities in workplaces; founded by Dr. Richard Lytle) is another way individuals can contribute in pushing for more meaningful employment for people with disabilities. In both cases, I see the value of collaboration across national borders in addressing employment issues for people with disabilities. Looking beyond one’s national context to see new possibilities and ways of thinking helps inspire us to create more innovative approaches and models that move us closer to our ultimate goals.
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Luanjiao (Aggie) Hu is a 2018 AAPD Summer Intern. She interned with the Association of University Centers on Disabilities.