REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 25, 1999 — Although people with disabilities have much to offer in the workplace, employers have yet to fully tap this pool of over 8.5 million qualified and eager job seekers. People with disabilities are continually underemployed and undervalued as workers — even though they make dedicated and creative employees whose professional contributions and commitment far outweigh the cost of workplace accommodations.
To help remedy this issue, Microsoft Chairman and CEO Bill Gates today announced the Able to Work Consortium, an initiative led by the National Business and Disabilities Council that will develop tools and strategies to help businesses tap into this segment of the workforce. 21 North American companies will participate in the program — including Safeco, Ford, Johnson & Johnson, Caterpillar and IBM — providing a consolidated recruiting and accommodation resource that helps open the job market to people with disabilities.
In a keynote address at the NBDC’s annual conference, Gates explained how Microsoft’s own experience with the disability community served as a catalyst for its participation in the consortium: “As technology continues to evolve, usability issues become more and more important. For years we’ve worked to ensure that our products empower users with information — and this includes people with disabilities.”
“The Able to Work Consortium provides us with an opportunity to come together with companies across all industries to set an example, share best practices and make it easier for people with disabilities to enter the workforce,” Gates said.
In December 1999, consortium members will meet at a Strategic Employer Summit to agree on current initiatives and determine key programs and projects for next year. The consortium will establish several ongoing projects, aimed at increasing awareness and bringing more people with disabilities into the workforce:
The consortium will launch an interactive Web site at http://www.abletowork.org/ that matches employers and job seekers, with online job and resume postings from consortium members and other companies.
Through a partnership with the President’s Task Force on the Employment of Adults with Disabilities, the consortium will launch a pilot employment program that provides new entrants in the job market with useful on-the-job training.
The consortium will work with professional and human resources organizations to collect and distribute best practices for identifying, recruiting and hiring people with disabilities, as well as information about people with disabilities who have succeeded in the workplace.
According to a recent NOD/Harris study, only 29 percent of the 17 million people with disabilities are employed — by contrast, 79 percent of the general population is currently working. Within this 50 percent gap lies a woefully undervalued labor pool. Studies have shown that people with disabilities have lower turnover rates and generally use no more sick leave than other employees. In addition, employers can receive significant tax breaks and credits for hiring and accommodating people with disabilities.
People with disabilities also have much to contribute to today’s employers — by overcoming challenges most people take for granted, they are naturally adept at creative “out of the box” thinking, which translates directly into a unique perspective and a creative problem-solving approach.
“The Able to Work Consortium participants already have innovative tools and strategies in place for recruiting, hiring and accommodating individuals with disabilities, and many of them combine their employment policies with a marketplace focus on creating products and services that are accessible to, and effective for, individuals with disabilities,” said Microsoft human resources vice president Chris Williams. “Our goal isn’t to preach to the choir, but rather to leverage the strong work the Able to Work members have under way to provide resources and advocacy to businesses of any size and in any community.”