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Why is job opportunity still lagging for people with disabilities?


JUDY WOODRUFF: We often hear about and cover
the struggles that many Americans face when they try to land a good job. If you have a disability, the challenge to
getting hired or even getting a response to an inquiry, much less a face-to-face interview,
is significantly harder. Our economics correspondent, Paul Solman,
explores why that’s still happening. It’s part of his weekly series, Making Sense. AMI PROFETA, Job Seeker (through computer):
Good evening. My name is Ami Profeta. PAUL SOLMAN: Ami Profeta has cerebral palsy. He’s been looking for work for over a year. AMI PROFETA (through computer): People have
hung up the phone. They don’t respond to my e-mails. PAUL SOLMAN: Profeta’s job hunt may be more
challenging than most. The unemployment rate for those with a disability
is more than double the rate for those without. We interviewed economist Douglas Kruse, himself
a paraplegic, via Skype. DOUGLAS KRUSE, Rutgers University: It’s
not just a matter of people with disabilities, you know, staying at home and collecting disability
income. It’s a matter of people who want to work
are not as easily able to find work. PAUL SOLMAN: In a 2015 study, Kruse’s research
team submitted 6,000 fake online job applications for accounting positions. One-third said the applicant had a spinal
cord injury, another third Asperger’s syndrome. And one-third didn’t mention a disability
at all. The results? DOUGLAS KRUSE: People with disabilities were
26 percent less likely to get expressions of employer interest. PAUL SOLMAN: What’s going on, do you suppose? DOUGLAS KRUSE: There’s a lot of discomfort
with people with disabilities. I think, apart from that, there’s a lot
of uncertainty: Oh, geez, someone with a spinal cord injury, I’m not sure they’re going
to fit in here. MASON AMERI, Rutgers University: They refer
to it as fear of the unknown. PAUL SOLMAN: Mason Ameri co-authored the study. MASON AMERI: How do I know if this person
can do the job? How do I know the cost? So, all of these unknowns ultimately compel
an employer to express no hiring intent. PAUL SOLMAN: Even though the Americans With
Disabilities Act bars such discrimination for firms with more than 15 employees. Nicole Ellis returned to the job market after
the bank she worked at went bust. But she decided to leave off her resume the
fact that she is legally blind due to ocular albinism. NICOLE ELLIS: I didn’t think that I would
be able to get my foot in the door. PAUL SOLMAN: It still took three-and-a-half
years to land a job here at Liberty Resources, a Philadelphia nonprofit which promotes independent
living for the disabled. NICOLE ELLIS: I would get the calls back. I would go on the interviews. And once you start discussing — because
I have to let them know that I’m going to need these accommodations, like software that
enlarges fonts or enhances speech recognition. So, once you start talking about those things,
it kind of becomes like dead silence, almost. And they… PAUL SOLMAN: Really? You can feel it? NICOLE ELLIS: You can feel it. And then they will give you some other scenarios
as far as, well, what about, let’s say, if it snows? Are you going to be able to get into work? PAUL SOLMAN: But you can understand, or can
you not understand why an employer would be concerned about all those sorts of things? NICOLE ELLIS: I do understand, but, on the
other hand, I have worked around people who do not have disabilities who do not come to
work and who do not work. (LAUGHTER) NICOLE ELLIS: So, I mean, to me, I understand
the doubt and the questions, but you are discriminating just based on the what-ifs of someone’s
disability. PAUL SOLMAN: Liam Dougherty has a master’s
in public administration from the University of Pennsylvania, and ataxia, a condition marked
by a lack of muscle coordination. LIAM DOUGHERTY: The way that disability affects
— affects employment is more insidious, more subtle, more insidious. My resume has all these gaps in there. And so I think an employer looks at that,
and they see, you know, like why has this guy not been working? PAUL SOLMAN: So, the gaps in your work history,
and the kinds of work you haven’t done, are kind of signals, you think? LIAM DOUGHERTY: Definitely. PAUL SOLMAN: Dougherty, like Ellis, also found
work here at Liberty. Bill Krebs says employers have always underestimated
him because of his intellectual disability. BILL KREBS: At one time, it was the R-word. We got rid of the R-word. It means mentally retarded. So, I was labeled with a mental retardation. My I.Q. is mild, so I was I.Q. of 70. When you’re labeled with a disability, it’s
like Hitler did to the Jews. They put a tattoo on your arm, and that stigma
stays with you the rest of your life. PAUL SOLMAN: So, once you’re stigmatized,
then? BILL KREBS: That’s it. PAUL SOLMAN: You’re out of the game? BILL KREBS: You’re out of the game, no matter
how hard you try. PAUL SOLMAN: Until he too found a niche at
Liberty, where disability is a commonplace. But what prompted this story is a second and
more surprising finding of the Kruse-Ameri research: Early results show that when they
sent applications just for jobs in data entry and software development… MASON AMERI: We found no evidence of discrimination. PAUL SOLMAN: None? MASON AMERI: None, at least not with the preliminary
data. PAUL SOLMAN: And why might that be? We went looking for a case study in the real
world, and found one in Philadelphia at an accounting firm. STEVE HOWE, Americas Managing Partner, EY:
We make a concerted effort now. We’re going to universities speaking to
the people responsible for their students with disabilities. PAUL SOLMAN: Steve Howe is managing partner
for EY Americas, formerly Ernst & Young. In a pilot program, it’s pushing to hire
more people with autism, a group that has had, up until now, an estimated un- and under-employment
rate of between 70 and 90 percent. But, says Sam Briefer: SAM BRIEFER, Account Support Associate, EY:
We all bring something to the table that a lot of people cannot. We are very detail-oriented. We analyze things in a very specific way. PAUL SOLMAN: Briefer is one of four recent
hires here with autism spectrum disorder. SAM BRIEFER: There are others that are very
more detail-oriented than — than I am and are much better with numbers. PAUL SOLMAN: Well, it’s an accounting firm. I guess being good with numbers is probably
a good thing. SAM BRIEFER: It is. It is. So, it puts us all at a huge advantage. PAUL SOLMAN: But, of course, people on the
spectrum typically have trouble socializing, communicating, an obvious handicap. Were you nervous about taking the job? SAM BRIEFER: I was, yes. I first thought that I would be communicating
with a lot of people at once, which is something that I always get stressed about. But knowing that I’m — I work independently
a lot makes me feel a lot better with where I work. PAUL SOLMAN: When things do get stressful,
EY brings in a job coach to help. The team’s regular manager, Jamell Mitchell,
got neurodiversity training ahead of time, but he’s also learning on the job. JAMELL MITCHELL, Associate Director, EY: They’re
very specific and very clear. As opposed to possibly a neurotypical person
that may try to slide in at 9:10, the folks that are on the spectrum will say, hey, I
arrived at 9:02 today. Do I need to work until 6:02? PAUL SOLMAN: And your reaction to that? JAMELL MITCHELL: Don’t worry about the two
minutes. We’re OK. (LAUGHTER) STAN HWANG, Account Support Associate, EY:
A lot of people on the spectrum tend to be, or at least initially, more — more rigid
in their — in some of their thinking. PAUL SOLMAN: But says program participant
Stan Hwang, this form of rigidity has a major upside. STAN HWANG: It also tends to make them want
to be more honest, I think. What would be the point of, like, lying about
something or being deceptive? PAUL SOLMAN: Because you’re more naturally
just straightforward? STAN HWANG: Yes. PAUL SOLMAN: Managing partner Howe recently
gave the team behind the pilot program a Better Begins With You Award. MAN: Well, thank you very much. PAUL SOLMAN: But, look, this isn’t about
feel-good inclusivity, so much as boosting the bottom line. Howe hopes to leverage the special abilities
he’s seen in his workers with autism. STEVE HOWE: We have learned from technology
companies like SAP, Microsoft, HP, who have hired people with these kind of skills. We think it’s a rich talent pool, and we’re
going to expand this now from this exercise in Philadelphia to three or four other cities
in the next year, and scale this up. PAUL SOLMAN: And that means more job prospects
for people on the spectrum like Stan Hwang. STAN HWANG: No matter what kind of functionality
a person may be, everyone wants to be treated like a human being, and everybody deserves
an opportunity. PAUL SOLMAN: And, at long last, in certain
jobs, they’re getting one. But for those with disabilities who don’t
seem to provide a profit advantage, many still seem to be on their own. AMI PROFETA (through computer): Employers
do not respond. PAUL SOLMAN: This is economics correspondent
Paul Solman reporting from Philadelphia. JUDY WOODRUFF: A wonderful report. And one more note: Paul’s team reached out
to several major groups representing employers, large and small, to hear their take. Some didn’t respond. Others said that they will start to consider
ways of tackling this problem.

Cesar Sullivan

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