Disability Inclusion at the Workplace: Why it Matters?

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By Lina Aragon, Co-Chair, COMTO Accessibility Advisory Council and Customer Service Administrator, Palm Tran


Individuals with disabilities have long been excluded or underrepresented in the workforce.  Do they get a fair opportunity to get employment?  As you would suspect, the answer is no.

Unfortunately, there are many incorrect preconceived ideas about having someone with a disability at the workplace. The transit industry in no exception to this situation. Performance and productivity, cost and nature of accommodations and other employees’ reactions are some of the fears that organizations face when given a disabled person the opportunity to come on board as an employee. Hiring someone who has a disability is not a common occurrence even though there are plenty of jobs in the industry that can be perform by a qualified person with a disability.

Contrary to the preconceived notions, hiring someone with a disability has many benefits for an organization:

It diversifies your company’s culture.

In today’s world, having an organization that is a true reflection of the community is a good practice. Not only for Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) compliance purposes but also for plain good business. People are more inclined to support, become clients and remain loyal to an organization where they can see a reflection of themselves and their community.

 It increases employee motivation and reduces turnover rate

Companies that focus on diverse hiring have lower turnover ratios than those that do not.  Employees create a positive connection to the company’s business practices, they trust their place of employment and loyalty becomes a strong feeling among staff members.

 There are federal and tax incentives.

Employers can benefit from the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), the Architectural Barrier Removal Tax Deduction and the Disabled Access Credit. Employers can also take advantage of state tax credits, although this varies by state.

 It can increase your profit margin.

According to a 2018 study report by Accenture, in partnership, with the American Association of People with Disabilities and Disability: IN : “businesses that actively seek to employ people with disabilities outperform businesses that do not. Their revenues were 28% higher, net income was two times more, and profit margins were higher by 30%”. Additionally, the Department of Labor found that employers who embraced employees with a disability saw a 90% increase in employee retention.

Individuals with disabilities stand to bring success, diversity and increased motivation to the workplace. Unfortunately, they are still fighting against decades of stigma and discrimination. However, companies are seeing the benefits of fully inclusive hiring, but there is still a great deal of work to be done.

At Palm Tran, the transit company in Palm Beach County, Florida, the work has been going on for some time and recently the first blind employee in the organization, Nicole D. Finchham-Shehan, was hired as an Outreach/Direct services worker.

Nicole provides information and education (including presentations) to Palm Tran personnel (i.e. bus operators, administrative employees, etc.) and the public (including but not limited to senior citizens). She visits agencies and communities to educate new riders about the services offered by Palm Tran’s fixed route and paratransit system. In addition, she is responsible for providing sensitivity training towards members of the disabled, senior citizen and/or transportation disadvantaged communities. She also provides Travel Training to potential transit users.

Nicole comes to Palm Tran with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Health Administration and Public Policy and a Bachelor’s of Science in Sociology. She has vast work experience and a tremendous amount of knowledge and passion for transportation. For the last ten (10) years, she has work as an ADA Consultant and Health Educator in Palm Beach County, Florida and Baltimore, Maryland.   She has also chaired the Citizens Advisory Committee for Accessible Transportation (CACAT) for the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) for several years and was a long-standing member for seventeen (17) years.  In addition, she has also chaired the Consumers for Accessible Rides service /Committee (CARS) for Disability Rights Maryland (DRM). Nicole has also worked for the Mayor of Baltimore City, a Maryland State Delegate and the Social Security Administration.   Nicole is a passionate advocate for the blind and disabled community and her education and work path attest of it.  Nicole is also part of the COMTO family as a Palm Beach County Chapter member.

Nicole’s accommodations for the workplace include a desk and a hand held CCTV (close circuit television), which enlarges print. A computer software called Fusion, which is combination of Zoom text and JAWS, an Oracam (glasses with a side camera) and some preferential lighting;  basically having no bright lights (light bulbs or natural light) at her workspace area.  The Florida Division of Blind Services provided the equipment that Nicole uses. By asking Nicole what else she needed, her desk was located in an area with no bright lights or open window blinds. Providing these accommodations was not a burden for Palm Tran nor was it a change in the way business and work are conducted each day. By removing some simple barriers, Nicole can fully perform her job duties and Palm Tran benefits from having a very qualified person as an employee.

Disability inclusion matters, but it is more than hiring people with disabilities. A truly inclusive workplace values all of their employees for the strengths they bring to the organization. It offers disable staff members a fair pay, equal opportunity to learn, succeed and advance. Real inclusion is about embracing the difference.

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