ILR School forum: Tech promises jobs for people with disabilities

Tucker Salovaara, of the New York City Parks and Recreation Department at the conference held at Baruch College.

Increasing technology-sector jobs for people with disabilities are rich with possibility, packed with potential and already showing business benefits.

So said Pat Romzek – an executive who works with the LifeChanger project at Cisco, and the father of a son with a disability – in his keynote at the ILR School’s Oct. 26-27 forum, “Technology Changes Everything: Innovating to Include People of All Abilities in a More Diverse Workforce.

The event focused on improving employment outcomes for people with disabilities in the tech sector and promoting inclusive design, which enables people of all abilities to access web-based products and services in tech-intensive workplaces.

Led by the K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Institute on Employment and Disability, the forum at Baruch College in New York City drew nearly 200 participants.

Speakers from technology companies, nonprofits, the disability community, government, academia and startups discussed promoting tech sector employment, training and entrepreneurship among people with disabilities, along with related recruitment and hiring issues.

Romzek began his talk with the startling statistics many in the disability community know well. Two-thirds of people with disabilities of working age are jobless. Those who do have jobs are usually underemployed, underpaid and live in poverty.

Those outside the disability community, though, “don’t often realize how awful the problem is,” Romzek said. “More attention is paid to homeless dogs.”

But incrementally, he said, opportunities for people with disabilities are improving in some corners of the tech sector. Executive-level leadership and commitment that leverages the business case for employing people with disabilities – who are almost always high-productivity workers – are factors driving success.

He noted that success by workers with disabilities is driven by character traits, such as integrity and empathy, that overcome the lack of education or work history most applicants with disabilities have been denied, he said.

“Be the Rosetta Stone. Hire people with disabilities even if they don’t [yet] have the skills,” which can be developed to match demand, he said. “You can change the world. It’s complex, but there is a way forward.”

Susanne Bruyère, director of the Yang-Tan Institute, said the…

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