In September, 2016, 19.8 percent of individuals with a disability 16 years old and older participated in our nation's labor force, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
That figure for people without disabilities was 68.7 percent.
Here's how we could make some real progress in raising that employment rate among individuals with disabilities in the United States:
Provide individuals with opportunities for self-reflection with trained counselors to explore the ways in which the disability experience has shaped their world views. Doing so, would also help to determine the degree of influence significant others have had on their self-esteem. That would also show the ways in which self-confidence has impacted them as individuals and as job candidates.
That's the message for families, job seekers and employers during this National Disability Employment Awareness Month from Jessica Kleist.
Kleist is a Professional Counselor in Training, speaker and Strengthening Families Facilitator.
For the past 15 years, Kleist has worked in various roles with families of youth with disabilities.
She helped to pilot a state-wide youth mentoring program in Wisconsin in which high school students with disabilities learn from their peers about how to better prepare for their transition to adult life, post-secondary education and employment.
Kleist also speaks from personal experience as an individual with Cerebral Palsy. She sees a continuing challenge, still today, for youth with disabilities as they enter the workforce.
The way in which disability is both perceived as well as portrayed continues to lead to a distorted view of disability – one which has a disproportional focus on the challenges one faces, she points out.
The lack of timely counseling may be one of the reasons why today's employers say finding "qualified" individuals with disabilities who are "ready to work" is a difficult recruiting task.
Job candidates, Kleist says, may have the needed education and experience for open jobs but often unknowingly lack insight into their own "soft skill" deficits (such as expressing emotions effectively). This can, and often does, result in lower levels of self-confidence and assertiveness in the workplace among individuals with disabilities.
Those lower levels of self-confidence and assertiveness, she points out, ultimately leads to fewer employment or advancement opportunities among those with disabilities as compared to their same-aged peers without disabilities.
Kleist is available as a podcast guest. See her One Sheet at http://tinyurl.com/KleistOneSheet.