REDMOND, Wash., Jan. 11, 1999 — For people with disabilities, wheelchair ramps and automatic doorways are clear signals of a building’s accessibility. Less obvious are the policies and attitudes of the company inside toward hiring people with disabilities.
Compliance with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) is certainly a baseline, but the new issue of WE Magazine, a lifestyle publication for people with disabilities, identifies 10 companies that go far beyond the ADA to recruit and accommodate employees with disabilities. WE Magazine’s annual Golden Ladder list included Microsoft for the first time this year.
“There is a new commitment by American companies to do that little extra to hire and accommodate employees with disabilities,” said Dr. Charles Riley, editor-in-chief of WE. “They have come to realize that there are 54 million Americans who have some sort of disability. These same companies realize this workforce has an extraordinary amount of talent and resourcefulness to offer.”
A 1998 survey conducted by Louis Harris & Associates found that only 29 percent of disabled people between the working ages of 18 and 64 work full- or part-time. This compares to 79 percent of the non-disabled population, a gap of 50 percentage points. Of those with disabilities who are not working, 72 percent say that they would prefer to work.
The Golden Ladder not only honors companies for their progress; it also underscores the financial and productivity benefits of tapping into the pool of workers with disabilities, a group that has been historically undervalued and underutilized.
“Microsoft recognizes the long-term benefits of recruiting and accommodating employees who have disabilities,” said Francine Tishman, Executive Director, National Business & Disability Council (NBDC), a division of the National Center for Disability Services. “What sets the company apart, however, is its leadership in building software products that are useable by people with disabilities.”
Tishman added that Microsoft is a member of the NBDC Executive Leadership Team, whose members work to increase employment of people with disabilities, demonstrating through their own business practices just how easily accommodations can be made.
“People with disabilities have as much potential to succeed in the workforce as anyone else,” said Randy Massengale, director of diversity at Microsoft. “Empowering disabled employees with software and hardware systems that fit their needs is a key part of the equation.”
Pursuing this goal on a large scale is the company’s accessibility and disabilities group, which works closely with disability advocates to understand the needs of people with disabilities who use computers at home, school and work. Recognizing these needs is the first step toward building accessible software and development tools.
“As a technology company, we’re able to put our own work to the test in accommodating employees who have a range of disabilities, such as blindness and mobility impairments,” said Greg Lowney, director of accessibility at Microsoft.
Said Greg Smith, a developer in Microsoft’s Data Access group: “I worried about my employment prospects after I became disabled during college, but Microsoft has done a flawless job of ignoring my disability when it is irrelevant, and assisting me whenever it hinders me physically.”