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Increasing Employment for Individuals With Disabilities With Abby Cooper of Kennedy Douglas Consulting

Episode summary

Abby Cooper is a busy woman. For more than 15 years, she’s owned Kennedy Douglas Consulting, where she works with federal, state and local governments and nonprofits to increase employment for individuals with disabilities.

The reality is that one in four people in the U.S. have a disability, but states aren’t doing enough to help these individuals enter the workforce. “I think a lot of times, people have incredible difficulty seeing the person — they just see the disability,” Abby explains.

Because the U.S. has squeezed a large portion of the country — and some of the most innovative problem-solvers — out of the job market, Abby has made it her mission to create more employment opportunities for them. She does this by educating companies on disability laws, employee etiquette and technology accommodations.

Abby’s also a firm believer that states need to band together to create consistent messaging around this matter — that if you live in the U.S. and you want to work, you should have the opportunity to do so.

Guest at-a-glance

Key insights

Right now, one in four individuals is living with disabilities in the United States — and these aren’t always noticeable physical disabilities. However, the states and the country as a whole aren’t doing enough to help these individuals enter the workforce.

COVID-19 has shed a lot of light on this matter. For one, the country now understands the power of virtual work. However, individuals with disabilities might not have access to the technology or the skills they need to succeed with remote work, especially when the first step of the process is a job interview, which is often held through a video-conferencing platform.

States lack a consistent message when it comes to employing individuals with disabilities, and not enough people are paying attention to what kind of support is needed. But if the country as the whole can develop a consistent message that emphasizes the importance of employment for everyone, then more universal systems and development plans can be put in place.

Episode Highlights

You can’t always see a disability

“SHRM [The Society for Human Resource Management] came out with a study that 81% of personnel view a disability only as a physical disability. And if you start realizing that 70% of people with disabilities have hidden disabilities, that’s an incredibly unfortunate way to think of things. I think there’s the assumptions, and I think we reinforce those assumptions rather than analyzing them and teasing out the facts and figuring out what your assumptions are versus the reality.”

COVID-19 has helped illuminate a technological divide

“I think COVID has highlighted how we as a society need to be a lot sharper on our virtual skills. And our funding sources need to pay for virtual support for job seekers with disabilities. With some of those folks, there’s a huge technological divide. If you’re poor and you’re on public benefits, there’s a good chance maybe you have a smartphone, but you may not have a laptop. And so then communicating virtually gets a little trickier, particularly when interviews are virtual.”

Closing an entire population out of the market

“If we don’t start putting some innovative projects in now for people — where they get the technical skills they need, they get the critical thinking skills they need — they’re going to be closed out of the market. That’s going to be more costly to the state. That’s going to be more cost on public benefits. And we know right now public benefits are an issue, but we’re not thinking about how do we make people self-sufficient and what skills do they need to decrease their reliance on the public?”

States are underutilizing some of its most innovative people

“If you’ve gone through our world for your entire life with a disability, you have to be a great problem-solver. There are so many issues that confront you, and you’ve got to figure out, ‘How do I maneuver through life?’ So you got great, innovative people who are not being utilized.”

States need a consistent message about employing people with disabilities

“There’s a whole population out there that’s not getting employed, who don’t have a significant disability, so I think there needs to be a consistent message within state government around employing folks with disabilities — that every person in the United States, if they want to work, they should have employment.”