This is a question I am often asked: Does the shaky economy make it harder for people with disabilities to find a job? Undoubtedly, yes. The job marketplace is more competitive, and frankly, it’s easier for an employer to hire someone who doesn’t need an accommodation.
Though the American with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination of the disabled, it still happens indirectly — and more so when the hiring pool is larger. Just look at U.S. employment rates from the past year. Only 46 percent of working-age people with disabilities held jobs, vs. 84 percent of non-disabled people. The national unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 12.9 percent in April 2009, compared to 8.6 percent for non-disabled Americans.
And here’s a little-known fact: It takes someone with a disability 10 times longer to land a job than the average person. “Employers want to hire people with disabilities but they’re often not trained on how to find, interview or manage this group,” says Sheridan Walker, founder of consulting firm HirePotential.
The good news is assistive technologies can level the playing field. Many of these accommodations are already in use in the workplace, and most cost less than $500 or are free to use. For instance, a screen reader for the blind is built into both Windows and Mac computers. Speech-recognition software, around $200, is used by both busy CEOs and workers who are dyslexic. Instant messaging programs, free and used in offices everywhere, are also very useful for the deaf and hard or hearing.
One of the coolest technologies today that is incredibly beneficial for the deaf is the universal mobile communications in-box. For a small fee, this service will transcribe voice mails into text. It’s available on the the iPhone and BlackBerry Storm as applications. Google is also planning a similar service called Google Voice.
I’m also continuously amazed at accessible PDAs that people who are blind can use to surf the web, send emails, read books, and write documents. You can choose Braille or audio versions; both will connect to a computer and synchronize information. Some models, like HumanWare’s Braille Note, include GPS receivers.
And you’ve heard of video conferencing, but how about in sign language? Video relay service is a free service from the FCC that allows deaf people to make telephone calls to hearing people using their native sign language. It is done on the Internet using voice over internet protocol (VoIP) using a computer with a camera, such as Apple’s iSight.
So there you have it: Many accommodations are already in use in the workplace, and most cost less than $500 or are free to use. If you have a disability, brush up on your assistive technology knowledge and make it clear to employers that these tools are the key to your success.
Read about disability career websites here.