ADA — 25 Years of Progress

Title:ADA--25 Years of Progress Image Dark blue letters with a backgrount of water dropping, creating surface circles.Over the last 25 years, the Americans with Disabilities Act has had a transformative effect on disability-related employment policies and practices in the United States. Title 1 of the law granted employees with disabilities civil rights protections that go beyond the right to be employed without fear of discrimination; it also gave them the footing to negotiate with employers in an “interactive dialogue” to achieve maximum productivity and longevity at work.

Cornell Benchmark ABILITY - Online benchmarking tool promoting disability inclusive workplaces.The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 went even further to remove workplace barriers, broadening the definition of disability to ensure that Americans with disabilities— whether congenital or acquired later—are protected under the law.

These were critical victories, but there’s still a long way to go before people with disabilities attain the same level of opportunity and economic prosperity as those without disabilities. An important step in attaining such goals is to increase employer knowledge about both the letter and spirit of the ADA, and to promote policies and practices that encourage the full consideration of disability as a diversity characteristic in the American workforce. At Cornell University, our Employment & Disability Institute is dedicated to finding new ways to get information about promising policies and practices into the hands of employers. In July, our Employer Practices Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (EPRRTC) will launch a free, online self-assessment tool, BenchmarkAbility.

It is designed to help employers assess their efforts related to disability in recruitment, accommodation, advancement, inclusion, compensation and measurement practices. Employers can take one or all of the surveys and receive a report indicating their current status in each category, and receive recommendations and resources for future action.
The tool was developed over five years with the support of a research grant from the Department of Health and Human Services. BenchmarkAbility is designed to reveal new information about practices that lead to the greatest sense of inclusion and success for candidates and employees with disabilities.

Practices and policies are often inconsistently applied throughout organizations. This is true of different regions, departments, and levels within a company. BenchmarkAbility allows employers to create an internal network of users for the purposes of comparing implementation efforts across companies, and isolating units or personnel requiring increased attention and instruction on disability in the workplace. Issues such as unintentional bias, programmatic or structural barriers, and lack of information, can be addressed and remedied to promote hiring, and advancement and retention of people with disabilities at all levels and across all functions.

The work of fully realizing the promise of the ADA goes on. Finding innovative ways

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 of getting new knowledge about disability into the hands of employers can advance that cause, and may one day bring us closer to equalizing the workforce participation rates of people with and without disabilities. The chance to achieve the American dream is inseparable from the opportunity to find work, and employers are the gatekeepers of that dream. When they are given practical and effective strategies that can be readily implemented, they hold open the gate so that millions of people with disabilities can enter.

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by Ellice Switzer

Ellice Switzer is a technical assistance specialist at Cornell University’s Employment and Disability Institute.

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