During this past year, we have seen a significant increase in the attention directed to issues surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion. The elevated interest is long overdue, with policies and practices in both the public and private sectors receiving thoughtful and responsive revisions.
As companies, organizations and elected officials debate and implement new approaches, race and gender have dominated the discussion. The focus is important but also misses a key population facing similar obstacles and historical discrimination: people with disabilities.
More than 60 million American adults live with a disability, and adults and children with disabilities represent nearly a fifth of Indiana’s population. As the baby-boom generation continues to age, that percentage will only increase.
This year marks the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Since the passage of this landmark legislation, our country has made important progress, but much more can and should be done.
I am proud to lead Bosma, a nonprofit organization committed to creating opportunities for people who are blind or visually impaired. Our business isn’t a charity. Rather, it’s a company with a mission. As a service-disabled veteran who lost his vision in combat, I understand the unique challenges facing people with disabilities. With a history dating back more than 100 years, Bosma helps Hoosiers who are blind or visually impaired gain meaningful employment and the life skills they need to remain independent.
Bosma is Indiana’s largest employer of workers with vision loss – more than half of the organization’s nearly 200 employees are blind or visually impaired. These employees hold positions at all levels of the company, including leadership.
In Indiana, nearly 160,000 people are living with vision loss. Facing a national unemployment rate of 70 percent, Hoosiers who are blind or visually impaired must overcome significant challenges to become and remain part of Indiana’s workforce. The most pervasive of those obstacles involve employers’ unwillingness to hire someone who is blind due to misconceptions about their abilities and needs. Bosma can alleviate these concerns by providing employment services that guide businesses through the process of creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce.
Companies struggling to find skilled, qualified workers in today’s competitive hiring market should not overlook nontraditional labor. Leveraging this competitive workforce can provide businesses with solutions that also help workers with disabilities achieve financial independence. Diverse hiring also serves to augment corporate social responsibility efforts, most of which are being viewed through a diversity, equity and inclusion lens. To be fully inclusive, the lens must include people with disabilities.
Let’s broaden the diversity, equity and inclusion discussion to ensure the maximum benefit for society as we move forward.