Cal Lutheran educates on people in the workforce with disabilities

Eric Klang, Reporter

California Lutheran University hosted a panel discussion about disabilities in the workforce and “enabling people with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life,” according to the event flyer. 

“As members of the majority, we often forget that our systems in the workplace are built around people in the majority,” Dean of the School of Management Gerhard Apfelthaler said before introducing the panelists.

During the event, the panelists answered multiple questions about people with disabilities. Disability Inclusion Advocate Cindy Liu, System Change Coordinator at the Independent Living Resources Center Jacob Lesner-Buxton and Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Consultant at the Change Maker Academy Matthew Lowe covered how those with disabilities prefer to be addressed, how they deal with difficulties finding work and gave their own ideas on how able-bodied people can be truly inclusive to those with disabilities.

“We like the word disabled. We find it empowering, we’ve reclaimed it. There is our own culture around it and we find it to be a beautiful thing that we engage in,” Lowe said.

At the April 18 event, Lowe said most people who have able bodies are often unintentionally or indirectly participating in ableism. Ableism is when people with disabilities are not included in certain things because of systems or policies put in place that keep the majority in mind without thinking about the minority of disabled people.

Lesner-Buxton also said that people with able bodies should try to stay away from the word “special.”

“Innovation comes from designing on the margins, not the middle, so if you think about accommodations as not special, if you think about how you can support people quote ‘on the margins’ you will most likely and almost always hit those folks in the middle,” Liu said.

Liu said almost everybody in the world will be affected by or suffer from some sort of disability in their lifetimes, whether it be a friend or family member that has a disability that they may have to help provide for or something that happens to them individually that causes them to become temporarily or permanently disabled. 

“When you call someone special needs, their needs aren’t special…they want to belong, they want to contribute, they want to be asked for their opinion. It’s how they access the world that is not designed for them and us that’s special,” Liu said.

During the event, the audience was presented with a fact sheet that demonstrated how 7.8% of disabled people are unemployed compared to only 3.4% of able-bodied people.

“The numbers we often hear about unemployment, those are from people that have filed for unemployment, so the chronic unemployment numbers are 10 times that number I would say, people with visual impairment, the stat is 80% unemployed,” Lowe said.

Lowe said much like there is a wage gap between genders, there is a very prominent “job gap” in the disabilities space.

The panelists then spoke about difficulties that people with disabilities often have when trying to enter the workforce.

Lesner-Burxton said many employers will see that a person has one disability and automatically assume that they have every kind of disability, which keeps them from being hired or getting a callback.

“I can show on a resume that I have done all these things, but it’s not what algorithms pick up…so what we need to do is to personalize our job hiring situations, in my perspective, we need to rehumanize them,” Lowe said.

Lowe said that accommodations are the bare minimum and are the very first step toward inclusion.

“Accommodations are not justice…it’s the path to equity but accommodations are not justice,” Lowe said.