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ADA at 31: Honoring Diverse Abilities in the Workplace

On July 26, our nation celebrates the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the landmark civil rights legislation that assured legal rights and accommodations in employment, government services, transportation, and communication access for people with disabilities. Title I of ADA law established expectations for how employers with 15 or more employees — both private and public — must ensure equitable access to job opportunities by providing reasonable accommodations during all stages of the employment process, from recruitment and hiring protocols to retention policies.   

The ADA is an important milestone in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. Disability rights have long trailed progress in other areas of diversity, due to societal stigma and misunderstanding about disability issues. Over the last three decades, the ADA has created access to economic opportunities for millions of people to gain access to living-wage jobs and fulfilling work.  

Despite employment advances among people with disabilities, disparities remain. According to a Brookings article about disability rates in different populations, people with disabilities represent about 9% of the U.S. adult, working-age population. A 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistic report found that only 17.9 percent of people with disabilities were employed. Additionally it found that the global pandemic has increased the unemployment rate among people with disabilities to 12.6%, the highest rate in seven years. The intersection of race and disability serves to deepen the inequities (Read RespectAbility’s press release on intersectionality). A Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that when compared to whites with disabilities, Blacks, Asians and Latino/x with disabilities are employed at lower rates.

For companies looking to improve their DEI practices and policies to enhance outreach and services to the disability community, here are a few learning resources and ideas:

  1. Become familiar with myths and facts about ADA law and accommodations in the workplace. For example, one myth about disability in the workplace is that providing accommodations could be costly. According to SHRM, fewer than 14% of people with disabilities seek special equipment or other workplace accommodations; the cost for modifications is usually negligible. 
  2. Sign up for the free “ADA Basic Building Blocks” course, a foundational resource for learning about the ADA civil rights framework, structure, and enforcement. The course also highlights case studies, real-life examples, and self-tests.
  3. Plug into disability rights advocacy and policy organizations that are increasing awareness to expand access among people with disabilities in the workplace.
    1. Disability 101: Employment Policies and Etiquette
    2. ADA and Workplace Culture
    3. SHRM Disability Employment Resources

The WTIA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Office exists to support partner organizations in advancing their goals to create more inclusive and equitable workplaces. We’re committed to supporting efforts to address systemic inequities in business operations and processes. Email to learn more about our offerings.


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