Perceptions of Disability Are Changing and What That Means for the ADA, Part 2

The following is the second part of a guest post from Jim Hasse, the editor of Perfectly Able: How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed on July 26, 1990. Find Part 1 HERE.

As an employer, you may well conclude that trying to second-guess future applications of Title I (the employment section) of the ADA is chancy.

In fact, during the next two decades, trying to second guess the ADA may be even riskier than it was during the last two decades. Why? Three long-term trends are affecting how we as a society, look at disability, and those new perceptions could have a dramatic effect on how case law further refines the definition of disability.

1. Disability is becoming common place.

Overall, the U.S. population is getting older as the baby boomer generation ages and the average person works (full-time or part-time), beyond the age of 65. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 57 percent of women and 45 percent of men who are 65 years old or older have some type of disability.

Not all of the over-65 workers you eventually retain, rehire, or add to your work force will be disabled, but it’s likely you will be required to address a range of workplace accessibility issues. The question is this: Are you, as a hiring manager and as a company, ready for them?

2. Paradoxically, disability is also disappearing thanks to medical technology.

We’re at the dawn of an age where people and machines are becoming one — not just externally but internally (thanks to nanotechnology). With advances in medical technology, individuals previously thought to be “disabled” are becoming “perfectly able.”

Raymond Kurzweil, author, inventor, and futurist, expects to see these three technologies of the 21st century combine and produce spectacular results: genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics.

In “The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology,” Kurzweil asserts that medical advancements will make it possible for a significant number of his generation (baby boomers) to live long enough for the exponential growth of technology to intersect and surpass the processing of the human brain.

If transcending our biological limitations becomes reality and commonplace, many will be able to compete effectively with the intervention  of technology. Today’s most common definition of disability (a condition which limits one or more of a person’s life activities in comparison to the general population) may become less meaningful.

Kurzweil’s work prompts me to ask: Will baby boomers find themselves in the unique position to show that disability is, indeed, disappearing as a concept? Will they redefine aging and retirement to conform to their own wishes? Will aging become a process in which we accumulate accommodations to continue to refine, use, and share our skills with others well past the traditional retirement age?

We could reach a point where many will need an accommodation to effectively compete in the workplace, enjoy recreation to the fullest, and obtain a meaningful education.

If that’s the case, disability could be disappearing for those of us living in the 21st century. Disability doesn’t matter anymore in terms of having the means to fully participate in society.

3. Disability is being reframed as an asset.

Job candidates who have developed patience through struggle in addressing their vulnerabilities are prime applicants today because they have the attributes that will likely reduce employee turnover and increase productivity.

You’ll find that many job candidates with disabilities have developed the habit of continually stretching themselves so they can live a little bit better with their vulnerabilities.

A job applicant with a disability has had years of experience in harnessing deliberate practice to acquire patience, persistence and resiliency — like a violinist who  started practicing when she was four years old.

Geoff Colvin sums up the power of deliberate practice with an overarching, propelling purpose in his book, “Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else.” He writes:

“…The most important effect of practice in great performers is that it takes them beyond — or, more precisely, around — the limitations most of us think of as critical.”

Colvin pinpoints exactly why it makes good business sense to hire people with disabilities who have developed the motivation to work hard at precisely the things they need to improve so they can contribute to a company’s bottom line.

So, as an employer, what are you to do? How do you avoid being the recipient of a subpoena to answer charges of discrimination while society’s perception of “disability” continues to undergo a fundamental change?

The only answer is to hire the best candidate for an open position in every single case.

Jim Hasse is an Accredited Business Communicator and Global Career Development Facilitator. He was previously senior content developer of eSight Careers Network, the premier social networking website for visually or physically impaired job seekers.

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One response to “Perceptions of Disability Are Changing and What That Means for the ADA, Part 2

  1. Hi Jim, I totally agree with your statements about the loyalty and hard work of people with disabilities. Employers need to look more about team development, and work environments that suit everyone. There is much learning from the U.S. for us, as we have now taking a Vending initative (Randolf Sheppard Act) and adapting to our Hand on Heart model in Ireland. Love you to take a look at our website

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