Sunday, September 26, 2004

Disabled workers can solve shortfall


The Daily Grind

John Eckberg

Employment experts warn that a wave of baby boomer retirements will bring a shortage of workers in the years to come and force many companies to scramble to fill payrolls with productive, experienced employees.

The solution to the future employee deficit is here already, and a conference sponsored by the Kentucky Business Leadership Network on Oct. 4 will explore why people with disabilities may be the best way out of any pending shortfall.

Workers with disabilities tend to be more loyal and are definitely struggling with a higher unemployment rate. And one in five people with a disability are actively looking for work.

"That unemployment rate is four times the national average," said Brewster Thackeray, vice president of communications for the National Organization on Disability, a nonprofit organization based in Washington that advocates for people with disabilities.

SEMINARS
What: Impact Your Bottom Line: Tap an Untapped Market ... Individuals with Disabilities
When: Oct. 4, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Where: Holiday Inn Airport, Erlanger.
Who: A series of seminars and discussions presented by the Kentucky Business Leadership Network. Register at www.kybln.org/conference or call (859) 257-3586.
Cost: $50 to $165 depending upon membership level.
"It's a disgraceful situation for the country and a crisis for each of the individuals, their families or anybody else counting on them for support."

Conclusions from a 2004 assessment from the National Organization on Disability/Harris Survey of Americans with Disabilities portrays a fairly bleak world for many with disabilities:

• Three times as many disabled Americans live in poverty as the general public.

• People with disabilities are twice as likely to drop out of high school.

• They are also twice as likely to have limited transportation options, and about three times as many people with disabilities go without health care as the general public.

• Nationally, about 54 million people have a disability, while locally there are an estimated 360,000 people with a mental, physical, psychiatric or sensory disability.

One immense implication of those disturbing findings is this: Everybody is just one car wreck away, a diagnosis away, a progressive condition away from joining the ranks of the disabled.

"My boss likes to say we all live in the ante-chamber of disability," Thackeray said. "If you live long enough, it's likely you will acquire one."

The good news for employers is that disabled workers are more likely to be loyal to and appreciative of the company that brings them their daily bread.

"What we know is what we hear from employers," said Thackeray.

Most employers have found that disabled people have learned to adapt to challenges, are able to think outside the box and are more appreciative of the job opportunity, he says.

Kevin Foster, senior human resources manager for Motorola Inc. in Tempe, Ariz., will give the conference's keynote address "Strategies around Innovation and Business Growth."

Breakout sessions include Web site accessibility, legal issues, broadening diversity plans and marketing to customers who have disabilities.

E-mail at jeckberg@enquirer.com



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