Last week, I called attention to how society’s systemic discrimination against people of color creates a level of chronic stress that has been shown to be a cause of hypertension in black Americans. Hypertension kills 1,300 Americans of all races and ethnicities every day. This should be a concern to employers given they bear the bulk of the costs to ensure American workers, and directly bear the costs of lost workdays, recruitment, and replacement. This week it’s hard to not notice another aspect of discrimination that is also very relevant to employers.
Civil rights icon, Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta who died recently, is being remembered and honored in Alabama, Washington, and here in Georgia. Leading a large group of peaceful civil rights demonstrators, Lewis’ bloody beating on national television by Alabama state troopers on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965 shocked the nation. Known as “Bloody Sunday,” it led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act later that year. Though that law has since been weakened by a 2013 Supreme Court decision, it was an important first step in the effort to end systematic suppression of black voters in the US.
I’m mindful that Rep. Lewis once said, “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something. You have to do something.” Twenty-five years after the passage of the Voter Rights Act, America did something about discrimination against another group of citizens – those with physical, cognitive, and learning challenges. Thirty years ago, on July 26, 1990 President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). It prohibited discrimination against less abled people in areas of Employment, Education, Healthcare, Transportation, Recreation, and Housing. Historically American society had viewed such disabilities as individual and personal issues. That attitude was effectively a “shelter-in-place order.” One that excluded millions of adults and children from participation in society and from achieving their potential. Today, about 1 in 4 Americans have some type of disabling condition and over 9 million children have special needs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with disabilities continue to face health disparities. Adults with disabilities are three times more likely to have heart disease, stroke, diabetes, or cancer than are other Americans.
The ADA created inclusion for millions of adults and children. Then came 2020 and the Coronavirus Pandemic. When unemployment skyrocketed, those employed through the opportunities created by the ADA suffered the most according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. They were often the “last hired, first fired” and this seems to be the case in the current recession. This is very concerning to this community and their advocates. However, there is a silver lining to this cloud. Employers have seen how effective working from home can be. They are learning that remote work can in many cases make their businesses more successful and their workforce even more engaged. Ironically, many of the aspects of working from home were the very same accommodations advocated for decades by the community of Americans with physical, cognitive, or learning challenges. While many obstacles remain for disabled Americans, employers can help by being intentional and thoughtful about lessons learned from the Coronavirus Pandemic as they pertain to opportunities for all workers.
About the Author
Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, is the Chief Clinical Officer for Espyr. Norman has worked in the mental health field for over 30 years and is the author of four books on behavioral health topics. He is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-development/physical-health-and-nutrition/chronic-conditions-and-disabilities/trends.html#:~:text=The%20National%20Survey%20of%20Children,16%2D20%20have%20a%20disability.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Atlanta Journal Constitution
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