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Disability Equality Index Ranks the Best Places to Work for People With Disabilities

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Staffers at the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and the US Business Leadership Network (USBLN)  The DEI logo.  have partnered to create the Disability Equality Index (DEI), a national inventory used to assess and benchmark businesses’ disability inclusion practices. Now in its second year, the DEI is recognizing 42 of the 83 companies that participated in 2016 with a 100 percent score and “Best Place to Work” honors. 

Among the top-ranking companies are Starbucks, AMC Theatres, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, Delta, JPMorgan Chase, P&G, Comcast NBC Universal, HP, General Motors, Walmart, and American Airlines.

A few of these businesses have made news in the past for their disability-friendly practices. Starbucks, for instance, just hired 10 deaf baristas at one of its stores in Kuala Lumpur. AMC, the second largest cinema chain in America, has led the way with sensory-friendly screenings since 2007.

Helena Berger, president and CEO of AAPD, told The Mighty the survey may also guide people with disabilities and their loved ones on where to spend their money.

“The DEI helps people with disabilities better target where there are greater employment opportunities within industry segments,” Berger added. “In addition, it shows which companies are actively engaged and working toward disability inclusion for employees, customers and suppliers.”

Companies that choose to complete the DEI are evaluated on their responses to a wide-ranging survey, which asks weighted and non-weighted questions in four categories: Culture and Leadership, Enterprise-Wide Access, Employment Practices and Community Engagement and Support Services.

While the DEI’s creators recognize that a survey can’t accurately capture the holistic experience of disability at a company, they say their inventory has produced concrete changes in several participating businesses, including formation of employee resource groups on disability and increased support from high-level executives.

“We know that policies alone don’t always translate into inclusion,” Jill Houghton, executive director of USBLN, said. “The DEI provides a road map for advancing disability inclusion by enabling companies to see both strengths and areas of opportunity that exist across their organization, and provides a means to benchmark against their competitors and businesses as a whole.”

And, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about, according to Houghton.

[The DEI] is designed to promote and advance disability inclusion practices and policies within corporate America that lead to better employment outcomes for and inclusion of people with disabilities, as employees, customers and suppliers. When businesses include people with disabilities, everybody wins.

See the full list of “best places to work” here. Are you a person with a disability who has worked at one of these places? What was your experience like? Tell us in the comments below. 

Image via Wiki Commons / Raysonho

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How I'm Teaching My Daughter With a Disability to Accept Others' Differences

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“Why do you think he’s in a wheelchair?”

My 4-year-old daughter pointed to the outline of the man pushing the large wheels of his chair on the page in front of us.

“I’m not sure,” I answered honestly. “Maybe he hurt his legs, or maybe he got sick and his legs aren’t strong enough to walk.”

Whatever the reason why the character in the book we sat reading on a beanbag in the library was in a wheelchair was much less important than what was happening at that moment with my daughter – learning about someone who is different than her.

The beauty of reading is that it can transport us to faraway places, time periods in the past or the future, even worlds only alive in our imaginations. But reading does something else: it allows us to learn about each other. It enables us to imagine how we may feel in situations we have never been in or to appreciate someone’s life that we have never met – developing empathy for those we encounter throughout our lives.

Through the characters who grow within a well-told story, books foster new ideas, new cultures, new ways of living. Instead of pity, we can come to better understand. Instead of apathy, we can learn to connect and bridge. Instead of intolerance, we can learn to celebrate how uniquely we were all created.

When my daughter was born four years ago, we were given the shocking news of a rare diagnosis: a severe genetic skin disorder. Today, she is the size of a child half her age, with skin that appears like a terrible sunburn – and she is often the object of open-mouth stares, pointing and questions.

Because of this, we began to discover firsthand how important these (often difficult and all too rare) conversations are with our children, how essential it is to explore our differences – both inside and out. Kids learn by asking and seeing and experiencing, and we need to not relegate the subject of difference to a taboo topic.

And even though my daughter deals with her own differences, I’ve found that doesn’t mean she is immune from needing to learn about others’ differences. She may have more empathy or understanding on a basic level when she sees a child who is different from her, whether it’s size or skin color or disability, but she is still curious about others, the same way that others are curious about her.

If we want our children to know how to be respectful and choose kind words, to be kind-hearted and empathetic individuals, it starts with us as parents. And to give our young kids these experiences, the pages of a book are a wonderful place to open these conversations, so that they can begin learning to appreciate the differences of other people before encountering them.

Let us not be more concerned about teaching our children about how to excel at sports or master sight words than about how to treat each other, especially those people among us who may be very different than we are. Different doesn’t have to mean strange or uncomfortable if we look for points of connection and strive to learn more about each other in respectful and appreciative ways. After all, we are much more the same than we are different.

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Why the Peachtree Road Race Rules Are Unjust for Competitors With Disabilities

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I was born a runner. I was not gifted with ultra-speedy legs, short torso, or any other component of a typical marathoner or triathlete. Instead of these luxuries, I rely on sheer grit and tenacity with some ingenuity from my father. I still feel the excitement fizz when we walk to starting lines of road races with my modified recumbent Sun trike — better known as the Rumbler since it’s not a jogger or a racing wheelchair, but functions in the same vein as a push-chair.

Kevin racing with his dad.
Kevin racing with his dad.

People don’t know how it feels to have a disability; there is no word to describe the anxiety a person can feel when your body is stiff from cerebral palsy, when you cannot go places too narrow for your power chair, and you watch your friends leave -– or worse -– carry you through. You need an equalizer to rebuild your self-esteem and rehabilitate your self-worth. For me, it’s the Rumbler. Sporting a two-speed coaster-brake hub, I control the speed and feel the wind in my face. My adrenaline is pumping. I watch the speed steadily rise -– 13, 14, 15, 16 m.p.h. I chuckle as my dad tells me to slow down. He is always lagging behind, whether he’s running on foot or riding his old Murray, also known as the rat bike.

My dad is just one of my many rivals. I find many more in races. I spot one of the fittest male runners (who may or may not be in my age group) and try to keep up with him. Most of the time, he wins, but once in a blue moon, I beat him. And that feels great because by doing so, I am making a statement: it doesn’t matter what your capabilities are -– it’s how much you want it.

Some race officials don’t get this. They’re so caught up in an unfair standard of who “qualifies” as a “ wheelchair athlete,” they have apparently forgotten what racing is truly about. The Peachtree Road Race, unlike most of the runners’ organizations, limits wheelchair athletes to two pairs of partners with qualifying times. My dad and I were ready to compete with the Pease Foundation when the Shepherd Center and the Atlanta Track Club rejected my bike, claiming it was not safe, and that I had an “unfair advantage” because I pedal. That’s like saying Meb can’t run because his shoes give him an unfair advantage because they have a midsole. Although I can find no record of this in the public domain of the Internet, the Peachtree Road Race is supposedly adhering to a rule that says disabled athletes must not use cranks, chains or gears. Athletes are obligated to sign a waiver expressing this consent.

As an athlete, I was insulted. My dad and I qualified with a sub seven-minute mile for a 10K race. As a disabled person, I was mortified. Physically challenged people don’t have advantages. The only thing we can do is use what we have to the best of our ability. The Shepherd Center’s mission “is to help people with a temporary or permanent disability caused by injury or disease, rebuild their lives with hope, independence and dignity, advocating for their full inclusion in all aspects of community life while promoting safety and injury prevention.” As race directors, they are accountable for promoting fitness for individuals from all walks of life, including individuals from the disabled community.

I’m advocating to change the policies surrounding adapted racing bikes. I am working with a foundation for pushchair athletes to make a category for adapted devices with cranks. I use a recumbent bike because it’s an equalizer for me, since I can’t run. It is morally and ethically unjust, and violates the Shepherd Center’s own mission statement to deny me and others like me the right to use my bike. Changing the rule disallowing chairs with cranks would open more opportunities to wheelchair athletes who need hand-crank chairs to compete. All physically challenged individuals should be treated like every other participant, and given the opportunity to participate in the largest 10K road race in the world.

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Chicago Disability Pride Parade to Celebrate Inclusion

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On July 23, 2016 members of the community will come together to celebrate the 13th annual Disability Pride Parade in Chicago. This year’s theme is “Continuing the Drive: Inclusion Matters.”

The parade is a day for the community to come together and celebrate those with and without special needs. It’s a day to accept people for who they are, and change attitudes to appreciate the uniqueness in each person.

Last year, I had the opportunity to attend the Disability Pride Parade with my alma mater, Roosevelt University, marching with the Academic Success Center’s disability services office.  In addition to our group, there were approximately 60 other organizations, from access living groups to other therapeutic and supportive organizations for those with special needs participating in the parade.

As our group marched in the parade, we all wore bright green T-shirts with the words “Label Clothes, Not People” displayed on the front. On the back of our shirts was the letter “R” for Roosevelt University and “Academic Success Center.” I personally feel much gratitude towards Roosevelt and towards the embracing support of the Academic Success Center during my years as a student and beyond.

The Disability Pride Parade was “a great day of community, ability and joyfulness for who people are,” said Nancy Litke, director of the Academic Success Center at Roosevelt University. “To celebrate the lives of people with and without disabilities, but mostly to showcase the ability side and how we are a better world with more diversity.”

This year, let us remember how as a community we can celebrate the abilities those of us with special needs bring to the world.

Join us at this year’s Disability Pride Parade to celebrate inclusion. The parade kicks off at 11 a.m. July 23 at 401 S. Plymouth Court in Chicago.

This story was originally published in the Bugle Newspapers.
To read more columns by Daniel on other special needs issues, follow him on Special Chronicles.
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Scope Creates Disability Emojis for World Emoji Day and Paralympics

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Emojis are a great way to visually describe what you are doing or how you are feeling, but if you are a person with a disability, your experience likely isn’t captured within the 1,851 emojis currently available.

Around the world, 1 billion people, approximately 15 percent of the population, live with a disability. While emojis have become more diverse and inclusive over time – featuring same sex couples, and different skin tones – only one emoji, a wheelchair user sign, represents disability.

To put this in perspective, there are five different emojis that represent umbrellas – umbrella, closed umbrella, beach with umbrella, umbrella with raindrops and umbrella on ground. For all of the different types of disabilities that exist – blindness, limb loss, chronic illness, etc. – there is only one emoji to represent them all.

To make emojis more inclusive, Scope, a U.K.-based nonprofit which promotes inclusion for people with disabilities, released 18 emojis featuring disabled people and highlighting the Paralympics.

“Emojis are so popular – everyone uses them, so everyone should be represented. It’s shocking that there’s only one character to symbolize disability,” Jordanne Whiley, a wheelchair tennis player and Wimbledon champion told Scope. “When I was growing up, I didn’t see people like me on TV, in magazines or in films… It would be great for disabled people to be reflected in the wide range of emojis.”

Of the 18 emojis Scope released for World Emoji Day on Sunday, 10 are Paralympics-related. The other eight feature a variety of different experiences including people using sign language, a guide dog and a dancing woman with a prosthetic leg.

disability emojis

Those who want to use Scope’s new emojis can go to Scope’s website and save the image files. Unfortunately, the emoji’s are not available as part of the standard emoji keyboard.

According to Scope, of the 4,000 Twitter users they polled, 65 percent of users said one emoji wasn’t enough to represent the full spectrum of disability.

“As a wheelchair user, I’m shocked by the lack of imagination. This one symbol can’t represent me and the disabled people I know,” said Rosemary Frazer, Scope’s campaign manager. “To truly represent the world we live in, disabled people should be included in a way that reflects the diversity of our lives.”

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How Online Dating Helped Me Embrace Myself as a Woman With a Disability

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He spit questions at me rapid fire, taking a breath only to suck down a glug of beer as dark as the V-neck sweater he wore. Unfazed by such a stiff, impersonal exchange — beginning to feel painfully more like a job interview than a first date — my answers came just as quickly, each a variation of the same smart, witty response I’d catalogued and pulled out what felt like a hundred times before. We had both switched on Conversation Auto-Pilot, and if either one of us noticed, we didn’t care. We had accepted this loose interpretation of “getting to know someone” as “just part of the process.”

Mollie with a friend.
Mollie with a friend.

I was halfway through a canned explanation of what I want out of life, laced with just enough pithy sarcasm to show him that I’m breezy, when he asked me the one question guaranteed to make me cringe: “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?” For the first time all evening, I could see a glint of personality behind his bored eyes, and as one corner of his mouth turned up into a lazy grin, I knew he was looking for scandal. I slowly shifted in my seat, anxiously biting my lip and hoping a bit of red lipstick hadn’t snuck onto a tooth. I wanted so badly to tell him the story of the time I zip lined in Hawaii or skinny dipped in a hotel pool, but the truth is that I’ve played life safely. I am an introverted creature of habit spending more time inside her head than outside her comfort zone.

At the risk of this guy finding me dull and uninspired, I answered honestly: “This whole online dating thing is pretty crazy, don’t you think?”

I never thought I would be scrolling through faces until I found one I deemed attractive enough to skim their Self Summary, then scrolling back up to study their pictures to decide if they meet silly, superficial standards. I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I’ve looked at a guy with good hair and an even better smile and thought, “he must be a great guy, but there are hundreds more to see.” This is dating now. And I am sitting in the front row of the bandwagon.

When I created my profile, I had zero expectations. It was simply an exercise in stretching myself, the girl more terrified by the idea of being vulnerable and open than by the thought of voluntarily free-falling from a perfectly good plane.

True to form, I showed my disability in pictures only, refusing to write about it. I didn’t want to expose too much of myself, fearing the kind of men I’m attracted to would pass me over. More than that, I wanted the focal point to be my personality and all the ways I take a bite out of life, not that I go through each day on wheels.

My plan worked until I received salty messages from men who felt duped by my, as one fellow e-dater described it, “calculated dishonesty.” His claim made me out to be manipulative and cagey, like I was intentionally hiding who I am, all for a laugh at the expense of a man foolish enough to be attracted to a woman who uses a wheelchair. The reality is that I am cautious to a fault, and after coming off the bench and getting into a game whose playbook is riddled with laws of physical attraction, I felt justified in my decision to be guarded. More unsolicited comments like, “you’re pretty for a quad,” “I can’t help but feel sorry when I look at you” and “you are an inspiration for looking for love,” validated my choice to be veiled.

But no matter how exhausting these brazen and bold opinions were, they weren’t shared in vain. After taking a beat from my quest for online love, I realized it didn’t matter what anyone thought — but it did matter that I wasn’t being true to myself. Before I started this journey, I pledged complete authenticity. And although my disability does not dictate the impact I will make or the mark I will leave, it surely affects how I experience our world and has influenced who I am. Looking inward, I began to understand that in choosing to omit details of my life, I was silently admitting that a part of me believed who I am isn’t enough for what I want, what I deserve. In that moment, I was no better than these ignorant men perpetuating a stereotype that perceived differences equate lesser value.

That isn’t the message I want to send.

So, I logged in, clicked edit, took a deep breath (or five) and explained the muscle and nerve damage. With some quippy joke about how I earned my wheels early. I said I’m self-aware enough to know that the idea of dating a woman with mobility challenges may be intimidating to some men, but there’s more to me than that one piece. I am kind and compassionate. I have a creative mind and a quirky sense of humor. I work hard. I am fiercely devoted to my family and friends. I am so much more than what tries, but never limits me.

Suddenly, I was inundated with messages from interested men whose caliber finally met mine. Because I chose originality over perfection. And because I was brave enough to embrace the woman I am.

Don’t be fooled, I did swoon for some smooth-talking stinkers. One whose mom apparently never showed him Bambi, otherwise he would know: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. That sage advice didn’t stop him from making sure I knew, “you’re hot, but your chair is a boner killer.” If I ever see him again, I’ll thank him for giving me what is absolutely the title of my memoir. Then I’ll run him over.

I’m getting gassed out from our dating culture. I’m done keeping score with all the game playing. And don’t get me started on the ghosting. What the f*** is that, guys (and gals – we’re not innocent in this circus). Can we all just be adults here and say what we mean and mean what we say? If you aren’t interested and would rather not see someone again: Tell them. It’s not hard.

Despite all the bad dates and all the disappointments, I have met some wonderful men, who have each taught me necessary lessons about love and life. What’s best is what I’ve learned about myself. I’m comfortable on my own. I don’t need someone in my life, but I want to share it with someone. I like the woman I’ve become as I’ve gotten older. I’m not perfect, but I’m beautiful. I’m small, but I’m strong. I’m quiet, but I’m confident. I know my worth and what I deserve. I won’t settle for anything less.

So, Cupid, keep shooting those arrows. If you miss once in a while, I’ll be OK.

Follow this journey on Wheelie Good Writer.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s a dating story related to your disability and/or disease that made you laugh, roll your eyes, cry or was otherwise unforgettable? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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