Here’s a trivia question to start with: What famous person stated his guiding principle as, “From each according to their ability. To each according their need”?

From each …

In conjunction with the 25th anniversary of signing into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Progress Center for Independent Living, headquartered on Madison Street, has been hosting a series of three gatherings to focus on improving the accessibility to employment of individuals with disabilities (IWDs).

A disturbing statistic from the U.S. Dept. of Labor reveals that 72% of IWDs are unemployed. Part of the reason for the high rate of unemployment is, quite simply, prejudice. When HR people read the resume of a person and are impressed enough to schedule a face-to-face interview, they often hem and haw and say, ‘We’ll get back to you,’ when a well-qualified candidate rolls into the office in a wheelchair.

President Obama, in a speech last October, said, “For too long, workers with disabilities were measured by what people thought they could not do, depriving our Nation and economy of the full talents and contributions of millions of Americans.”

Most of you know that I use a walker because of my disability. When people meet me for the first time, see my walker, and hear my slurred speech, they sometimes talk down to me as if my limitations included dementia and senility. My friends will tell you that my memory isn’t what it used to be, but they’ll quickly add that they, too, forget where they put the cars keys.

People usually understand the need for reducing barriers to IWDs like curb cuts, railings in bathrooms, ramps instead of, or along with, steps into businesses and automatic door openers. What the people at the Progress Center are advocating for is the reduction of barriers to employment — first because not hiring people solely because they are disabled is against the law. 

The Dept. of Labor website states, “The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities.”

Second, their motivation for getting more IWDs employed is not out of bleeding-heart liberal sympathy, but because it can increase the business owner’s bottom line. “Ching ching,” in other words, is music to the ears of not only disabled folk but also to employers.

What’s more, the cost of providing accommodations for the handicapped can be surprisingly low. The Dept. of Labor website reminds business owners that “the obligation to provide reasonable accommodations for job applicants or employees with disabilities is one of the key non-discrimination requirements in the ADA’s employment provisions.” 

It then hastens to add, “Most accommodations are low cost, yet yield considerable direct and indirect benefits. In fact, data collected by the Job Accommodation Network over the years reveal that more than half of accommodations cost employers nothing, and for those where there is a cost, the typical one-time expenditure is $500 — an outlay that most employers report pays for itself … in the form of reduced insurance and training costs and increased productivity.”

In other words, just like investing in telecommunication technology for temporarily able workers can increase profits, so spending money on accommodations for IWDs can increase the bottom line as well. The Job Accommodation Network — a service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy of the U.S. Department of Labor — did a study which “consistently showed that the benefits employers receive from making workplace accommodations far outweigh the low cost. Employers reported that providing accommodations resulted in such benefits as retaining valuable employees, improving productivity and morale, reducing workers’ compensation and training costs, and improving company diversity. These benefits were obtained with little investment.”

To each …

Remember the feminist slogan, “Anything a man can do I can do better”? I’m definitely not saying that about IWDs. You think Jay Cutler is handicapped? Imagine what would happen if you put me on the field! Realistically, many if not most of us IWDs don’t have the physical ability to keep up with other non-handicapped workers. We’re simply not able to produce in a competitive market enough to pay the bills.

But in my case, at least, my employer, Wednesday Journal Inc., doesn’t have to worry about paying me a minimum wage because before I was retired, the state gave me a disability check every month. I wasn’t getting rich by any means, but I didn’t depend on writing for the paper to make a living. It was a win/win deal. The Journal and the Review got inexpensive labor and I got a job that supplemented my small income but, more importantly, gave me the dignity of contributing to society, to the common good.

President Obama was spot on when he said, “Americans with disabilities lead thriving businesses, teach our children, and serve our Nation; they are innovators and pioneers of technology. In urban centers and rural communities, they carry forward our nation’s legacy of hard work, responsibility, and sacrifice, and their contributions strengthen our economy and remind us that all Americans deserve the opportunity to participate fully in society. During National Disability Employment Awareness Month [October], we celebrate the Americans living with disabilities, including significant disabilities, who enrich our country, and we reaffirm the simple truth that each of us has something to give to the American story.”

The quote at the top comes from, of all people, Karl Marx.