Despite efforts for greater inclusion, individuals with disabilities, especially people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities (I/DD), remain significantly undervalued and underutilized in the workplace. The stigma attached to disability creates a veil that shields employers from accessing this diverse group of qualified potential employees.

People with disabilities who are employed often face significant pay gaps. This may be due to underemployment and a lack of opportunities for career development and advancement.

Employment provides financial independence, a sense of meaning and purpose, and a better overall quality of life. There have been many legislative efforts to help remove barriers to employment, education and accessibility, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ensuring equal opportunity and nondiscrimination on the basis of disability), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (requiring free and appropriate public education for children with disabilities in the least restrictive environment) and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (supporting workforce development activities and funding education and job training programs).

However, policies alone can’t change systemic inequality; this has been proven time and again over the last four decades. Greater understanding and traction among employers is ultimately the key to seeing people with I/DD as valued members of the workforce.

Some postsecondary institutions are reaching beyond the basic requirements of these policies and embracing the movement toward greater inclusion in higher education by developing resources to assist students with a range of support needs.

How can we bridge the gap between the expectations we have for people with I/DD and the results we are seeing?

  • Foster self-determination and development opportunities.
  • Establish partnerships with higher education and I/DD community providers.
  • Demonstrate the value of diversity to businesses.

Read the full article about expanding college and work opportunities for people with disabilities by Marco Damiani at Forbes.