Today, the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) will host its first National Diversity Forum at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center,. This event is part of Add Us In – an initiative with the main goal of identifying and developing strategies to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities in small business communities. This specifically entails those located in or serving underrepresented and historically excluded communities, including those owned and operated by ethnic and racial minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals; veterans; women; and people with disabilities.
Add Us In is not only a project that is a priority for the department, it is also a project that is very close to my heart. Like so many of you, my life has been profoundly impacted by my various identities and experiences. Disability, race, gender and sexual orientation have all shaped the person I am today.
I faced multiple challenges in becoming successfully employed, as many people with disabilities do. We are often unable to find sustainable employment opportunities, and struggle to manage prejudice, our own disability related needs and other challenges. Just like many other underrepresented and historically excluded groups, we bring incredible skills to the workplace; we just need the opportunity to prove ourselves to be motivated and productive employees who contribute to the bottom line.
I think that we can all agree, no matter who you are or where you are from, that work is about dignity and respect. A critical part of our National Diversity Forum is a Plenary Dialogue including questions around employment strategies for people with disabilities, business hiring practices, resource coordination and sharing, and understanding the role of community supports. Our goal for this Plenary Dialogue is to learn from you and to hear your shared ideas and personal examples that move us forward towards a more inclusive and diverse workforce.
However, I know that not everyone can come to Washington DC or be present at this Forum. To ensure that participation is possible for everyone, I would like to share with you the six questions that will shape the Plenary Dialogue:
- What are key elements of disability hiring that differ between large and small businesses?
- What do small businesses need to increase the number of people with disabilities within their ranks of employees?
- How can the benefits of diversity (including disability) hiring be better promoted?
- How do you suggest coordination between education and employment systems be increased to ensure greater employment for youth with disabilities?
- How do you think workforce systems and employment policies can be made more responsive to communities that are culturally and linguistically diverse?
- How can ODEP and employment systems better engage with “influencers” such as family, faith and other community supports in underserved communities?
Please feel free to email me with your feedback at: Kathleen.firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment to this blog. I look forward to hearing from you, and together we can lead the way toward creating a more inclusive workplace.
Kathy Martinez is the assistant secretary for the Office of Disability Employment Policy.