Magazine article University Business

The Other Minority: As Employers, Colleges and Universities Must Ask Themselves If Enough Is Being Done to Bring in and Accommodate the Developmentally and Physically Disabled

Magazine article University Business

The Other Minority: As Employers, Colleges and Universities Must Ask Themselves If Enough Is Being Done to Bring in and Accommodate the Developmentally and Physically Disabled

Article excerpt

Think "workplace diversity," and people of various races and ethnicities likely come to mind. But those with disabilities are a group not to be forgotten.

In fact, they "represent the largest 'minority' group in the country, with the National Census reporting one person in five having a disability significant enough to affect their life functions. Twenty percent of the population is a pretty large minority," notes MaryAnn O'Toole, director of academic computing in the New Media Center of The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University.

Yet since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which provides a foundation for employee accommodations, was enacted in 1990, the employment rate of people with disabilities is virtually unchanged, according to the U.S. Census.

"The disability studies programs that are springing up across the country are recognizing the frequent absence of qualified people with disabilities and seeking to remedy it," O'Toole says.

Still, recruiting and accommodating faculty and staff members with disabilities has its challenges, the most obvious one being money. There are costs associated not only with advertising open positions in publications that target readers with disabilities, but also with making the necessary changes to accommodate whatever the employee needs, beyond what has (or should have) already been done to meet ADA requirements.

ACCOMMODATION BARRIERS

"The University of Illinois is like many universities in that its support of people with disabilities is minimal," maintains Robin Jones, director of the Great Lakes ADA and Accessible IT Center located at the University of Illinois, Chicago. "Historically, universities have not supported people with disabilities in many ways, due to issues of cost, and stereotypes associated with different disabilities such as mental illness."

The structure of higher ed institutions, which can make modifying policies difficult, is another barrier to overcome. Contractual relationships such as unions are also part of the mix.

"We have found that the majority of issues associated with disability arise with existing employees who acquire a disability after they have been hired, or the fact that a disability that did not require any accommodation was exacerbated over time, and traditionally, many faculty and staff stay within university systems due to the good benefits provided," says Jones, who is also a member of the Chancellor's Committee on the Status of Persons with Disabilities at UIC.

But professional isolationism and lack of supportive teaching environments are often problems that disabled faculty members face, explains Morgan Appel, director of education for University of California, Irvine's continuing education division.

The issue does not necessarily exist because schools have forgotten about the disabled. "The degree to which universities actively recruit differently abled faculty and staff varies from campus to campus, but the majority of postsecondary institutions place value on the endeavor within the context of policies and procedures documents," Appel says.

ROOM TO IMPROVE

"I think that universities recruit and accommodate faculty and staff with disabilities poorly or not at all. That said, I think that we're doing a better job here at Syracuse University than most," says Steve Taylor, co-director of the New York school's Center on Human Policy, Law, and Disability Studies. "We have one of two deaf law professors in the U.S. here. Our university and the College of Law have designed fairly extensive accommodations that are not perfect, but very good."

Sue Kroeger, director of Disability Resources and ADA/504 compliance officer at the University of Arizona, Tucson, says her institution makes "no special effort to recruit faculty, although disability is represented in the 'best practices' recruitment guidelines that are distributed to search committees. …

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