July 26 marks the 23rd anniversary of a landmark event in our nation’s history: the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Like other civil rights legislation that came before it, the ADA works to ensure a more inclusive America, one where more people have the freedom to lead full lives, pursue their dreams and reach their greatest potential. It also reaffirms the inherent value of one of our core national assets: our diversity.
From its earliest days, America’s strength has derived not from the commonalities of its people, but rather their differences. That’s because diversity drives innovation.
The same concept applies in business. Research tells us that groups outperform individuals − even brilliant individuals − working independently. Even further, groups representing a range of perspectives outperform those with superior, but similar, skill sets. By fostering a corporate culture respectful of individual differences, including disabilities, businesses benefit from varied approaches to confronting challenges and achieving success. That’s why many of today’s most successful companies proudly deem diversity to be a core value.
In his book “The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies,” University of Michigan researcher Scott Page summarizes this principle about as succinctly as possible: “diversity trumps ability.” He then goes on to illustrate, through mathematical modeling and case studies, how employee diversity creates higher performing organizations.
Today more than ever, businesses need people with the ability to adapt to different situations and circumstances. They need people who think divergently. They need people who think diversely.
The anniversary of the ADA presents an opportune time for America’s businesses to affirm their commitment to workplace policies and practices − including internships and other work experience programs for young people with disabilities − that welcome the talents of all qualified individuals.
As a leader, I’ll always choose a solution that represents an amalgam of opinions and insights rather than the one that approaches a problem from only one angle. Because in business, as in society at large, diversity drives innovation.
For more information on disability, diversity and inclusion, check out some of these resources:
- Add Us In
- Campaign for Disability Employment
- Building an Inclusive Workforce
- Diverse Perspectives: People with Disabilities Fulfilling Your Business Goals
- Employer Assistance and Resource Network
- Leading Practices on Disability Inclusion
Kathy Martinez is the assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy.