10 Feb 2012

Last week, The New York Times ran a piece by Peggy Klaus titled, “A Chance to See Disabilities as Assets.” Ms. Klaus recently gave a lecture at the University of California, Berkeley to students with disabilities in its Disabled Students Program. These students, like those I work with at Ball State University’s Bowen Center for Public Affairs, are educated, engaged and ready to enter the workforce.

However, we all know it’s tough to find – and keep – a job. For students with disabilities, the challenges are even greater. According to the article, the percentage of people with disabilities who are employed is 17.9 percent, compared to 63.7 percent for people without disabilities.

What Ms. Klaus discovers is that people with disabilities are uniquely positioned to succeed in today’s current job market. Often a student’s very condition – and their ability to use creative problem solving skills at managing daily life – can demonstrate how well they will be able to adapt to the workplace. The student also must take the initiative in proactively addressing the concerns of prospective employers.

Here in the Midwest, there are a number of elements coming together that point to improvements in not just the economy, but the future of disabled students. The Bowen Center’s Disability Project is providing similar mentoring and coaching to students. At the same time, our state’s capital city is one of the most accessible in the nation, with generations of city leaders who have exercised a strong commitment to access and inclusion.

On the heels of the Super Bowl, which went the full mile to provide fans with disabilities accessible accommodations, I firmly believe we are poised for improving this very critical economic disparity. Ms. Klaus also agrees, closing her article with the following:

“If more of us can see disability as both a challenge and an asset, the nation will be well on the way to fully using the job skills of all of its citizens.”


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