By John Register
When we reflect on the past year’s events — racial tensions, remote work, the great resignation, mental health challenges and the COVID-19 pandemic, we see marginalized communities, specifically disabled veterans, and their societal impact are significantly overlooked. The disability population, the largest of all marginalized populations, still finds itself on the outside of the diversity, equity, and inclusion conversation. The advancement of people with disabilities in the U.S. has come a long way and has a long way to go. Why does society not see the value of this dedicated and dependable pipeline of talent? Image; John Register earned the silver medal for the long jump in the 2000 Paralympic Games.
The Disabled Veterans National Foundation (DVNF) states that 50,000 veterans might not have a place to call home any given night, and 3.8 million veterans have a service-connected disability. According to DVNF, roughly 200,000 men and women are transitioning out of the military each year, elevating a platform to show veterans are a critical and rich source of talent.
In a business environment, veterans have high levels of adapting, leveraging advanced technical skills, resiliency, operational and team-building skills, organizational strength for staying committed and cross-cultural experiences that the job force demands. The U.S. Department of Labor placed the November 2021 veteran unemployment rate at 3.9 percent. The challenge remains with more companies and their ability to create a veteran-friendly workplace.
Since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, which was signed into law by George H. W. Bush, access to opportunities was open for people with disabilities. The hope was to finally engage people with disabilities into the greater society. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects people with disabilities from discrimination based on their disability. So, while the law allowed for curb cutouts, kneeling buses, and wider doors to bathrooms, we saw little happen in employment. Ted Kennedy Jr., co-chair of the disability equality index, calls employment the next great frontier for people with disabilities. I agree. Until we value people with disabilities, we won’t see a needed and significant shift in the unemployment rate of people with disabilities.
Disability increases the likelihood of disadvantage in social activities, income, housing and employment. But what are we missing? People with disabilities, 15 percent of the world population, have approximately $8 trillion in disposable income outlined in the Global Economics of Disability report. Stated in the 2018 Accenture Report, Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage, if companies embrace disability inclusion, they will gain access to a new talent pool of more than 10.7 million people. The report also stated the disability community is a vast, untapped market as the GDP could get a boost of up to $25 billion if just one percent more of persons with disabilities joined the U.S. labor force.
We also know that the disability community has the leverage to be a multi-million-dollar industry for untapped sectors, especially tourism, according to Maahs Travels. Accessible travel is the fastest-growing segment of the travel industry, with over 1.5 billion potential business and leisure travelers with exponential buying power.
Marginalized populations deserve equitable treatment as community members, especially in the veteran community. These statistics and facts are clear, and in moving forward, my hope, as a veteran who served six years in the U.S. Army — including in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and in active duty, with the U.S. Army World Class Athlete program, is that our nation recognizes the significant value in products and services that accommodate all people in society.
As public and private sectors, we must challenge ourselves to see the value and the influence of the disability population. It’s essential that we hire with a focus on diversity, directly market to diverse populations, design high-quality products, provide opportunities and services that are accessible, and find ways to incorporate inclusion strategies that create opportunities for us all.