The worldwide recession has made traditionally “reliable” forecasting models of improvement in job creation next to impossible to gauge accurately. This seems especially true for adults with hidden disabilities as they seek access to employment opportunities with little public or private recognition of their aspirations and barriers to achieving a livable wage.

In looking for data from governmental or private sector publications on the future of workplace prospects for people with disabilities, there have been few resources or reports that break down employment/unemployment for people with high incidence disabilities such LD, ADHD, Asperger’s, or mood disorders.

There is a nascent body of research, governmental reports, and studies that indicate emerging trend lines which will impact adults with hidden disabilities access and participation in labor markets across the US and around the world. A cross section of this information is shared within the blog.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is completing a review and inviting public comment concerning revised regulations for employers to determine who is disabled and what constitutes a substantial limitation to an employee that requires a reasonable accommodation. People with hidden disabilities such as ADHD, Asperger’s and mood disorders are in line for Tier I status as having severe disabilities, that would enable a relatively easier case for job modification.

As of this moment, adult workers with learning disabilities are being considered for a Tier II status. This means that consideration for workplace modifications or accommodations will require a higher bar with more steps to substantiate a substantial limitation due to this particular disability. Passing these regulations as proposed will create an additional hardship for un/underemployed adults with diagnosed learning disabilities who will not be a top priority in future employment initiatives- whether public or privately funded.

What is not clear and should really drive public commentary to the EEOC is the fact that the above-mentioned Tier I conditions quiet frequently co-occur with some manifestation of learning disabilities. How does an employee with workplace performance problems discern what aspect of the job is due to ADHD or LD? Many adults with these conditions have historically been reluctant to disclose or even know how to disclose (Gerber & Price, 2009) .

Human Resource personnel and company management will be caught up in these determinations, and are not prepared to make judgment calls with any reliability. Neil Romano, formerly of the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) shares that current governmental and private sector efforts must understand business better and connecting the dots between our goals and their needs. Businesses approach to disability employment tends to be one step at a time, rather than a systemic integrated process and approach (hiring, awareness, etc.) Imagine what would happen if this approach was used on women? If you recruit, how can you not train? If you train, how can you not have a career ladder in place? Business is not using its own fundamental processes in place for other minorities.

Romano’s contention is that business doesn’t understand how to integrate adults with disabilities into the workforce. This is because even if the corporate sector is well intended, they tend to have a blind spot. Businesses are still using a legacy model- they think of PwD based on old concepts, images and ideas (stereotypes, expenses, poor people, sick, etc). Most employers do not understand why they need and should market to the disability community to recruit for openings. Governmental and social service sector entities have not helped the corporate community see the “disability dividend”- that serving and hiring PwD makes money for the business through integrated processes in all segments of the business.

This seems to be the reality based on a cross-section of statistics collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics which shows that since October 2008 (when they began to collect employment data on PwD) the already high unemployment rate of working age people 16-64 reported as disabled has seen disproportionate growth compared to those reporting as non-disabled, where it is approaching 80% of this segment as not being in the workforce.

There are no current proposals within the Obama administration that target PwD specifically for workforce development either in system change grants or RFP’s for local vendor/replicable models. The US Business Leadership Network (USBLN) has been active in many parts of the country working with employers to address making the hiring, training, and promotion case for PwD a no brainer.

There seems to be a natural opening between businesses needs and government for creative common sense initiatives that will benefit all parties. With seed monies from the government- based on compatible performance criteria- collaboration and joint development agreements between the public and private sectors can begin to address the un/underemployment of adults with hidden disabilities.

The US Small Business Administration (SBA), has recently included people with disabilities into a category of applying as a minority-owned business. Just in the last month, financial institutions have shown an interest in approving blended funding between local banks, the SBA, and personal loan guarantees of the disability/minority-owned loan applicants to start, expand, or recapitalize an existing business.

The US BLN will also begin to certify disability-owned business to be able to work under the federal procurement system in contracting/sub-contracting with federal agencies. This has huge potential for the disability community, our country, and business on general. Globally, there are some efforts along these lines that hold some promise of improving the status quo.

The US became a signatory of the UN Human Rights Convention for the Disabled at the beginning of 2009. Among work-oriented aspects of this document, the signing governments promise to promote and include disability-minority owned businesses in their supply chains, set an example of hiring PwD into government/private sector positions, have barrier-free access, etc. An area of concern is to make sure employer’s do not hear “accommodation” as a message that means “ I am forced to by law” rather than an employee that just wants to be treated fairly.

The global view of disability and employment tends to be one of “best practices” as being better than “compliance.” Diversity and Inclusion is promoted as business improvement rather than a cost or expense to business. The Disability Standard as part of a UK effort to help employers become “Disability Confident” published an employer management tool that enables organizations to accurately measure performance on disability, in every way it affects their business, and put in place action plans that deliver real business improvement. This view allows for a hiring case that shifts away from issues of dealing with stigma of quotas and making a positive case for hiring through looking pragmatically at “reasonable adjustments” to the workplace that benefit all workers, not just those with a disability.

Kareem Dale, White House disability policy advisor for President Obama, sets the tone for change by noting that “An issue for advancement is the employer’s mentality of not being comfortable or wondering if that person with disability can do the job or- if up for a promotion- how have they been able to do the job? They would rather promote or go to a person without a disability and we get lost in the shuffle. PwD are capable and want to be employed. They want to be contributing members of society. Lack of health care, contributes to high levels of unemployment- wage conflicts make one reliant on retaining SSI or if you make minimum wage, you lose benefits and have problems getting coverage from private insurers.”

Across the rest of the developed and emerging world, we still see under and unemployment rates that are at least 75% or higher. No matter what terminology one wishes to use, these rates are not sustainable and need a radical re-alignment of national funding & service priorities. It will take more than just getting a job, it is about retaining it, making sure there is growth where one can excel and prosper. It is nothing less than equal access to the world of work and quality of life.