by Marielle Kriesel, Chair, Santa Monica Disabilities Commission

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy recently announced “America’s Workforce: Empowering All” as the theme of National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October 2018.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported unemployment plummeted to 3.7 percent in September — the lowest since 1969. However, unemployment of people with disabilities continued at 8%, revealing nothing has changed since October 2017 when the Santa Monica Disabilities Commission reported on this issue. This illustrates people with disabilities continue to experience barriers to employment. The Commission supports a vision for the good life in Santa Monica and proposes mentoring as a strategy for employers and educators to consider to empower people with disabilities to succeed in the workforce.

Mentoring empowers people with disabilities to create a credible professional identity. As a starting point, mentoring should ideally begin early in the process of acquiring an education, critical to developing that identity. Education is where people with disabilities acquire knowledge and expertise to share with prospective employers and refute the widespread misconception that they have nothing of value to offer. As students attain their degrees, they should consider a mentor who is an exemplary role model in their field of interest to offer competitive advice and opportunities, networking, and internships.

Recruiting a respected mentor and developing a network of professional relationships, including clients and customers, is an essential strategy to challenge the competition. A good mentor will offer a candidate with a disability advice on developing a resume, and how to navigate interviews and develop meaningful professional relationships.

Once hired, mentoring becomes an opportunity for on the job training between a veteran employee and the new hire to help them learn the job, including how to network, how to apply their skills and abilities and how to follow company policies and procedures to maximize success.

Local companies Amazon, Microsoft and Google continue to be the blueprint for inclusion in the workforce. Santa Monica’s “Silicon Beach” employs more than 25,000 workers in tech and creative industries. AmazonPWD emphasizes the importance of recruiting and hiring people with disabilities. Microsoft develops unique inclusive hiring practices as they recruit brilliant people on the autism spectrum to contribute to their mission of addressing the world’s challenges. Google’s Disability Alliance is a group for Google employees who build awareness and are “passionate about creating innovative and inclusive teams, products, education, and workplaces.”

In a democracy, everyone should be able to participate in contributing to the economy and achieve established goals. The Commission strongly supports the wide application of mentoring as a promising strategy to achieve desired economic results. We invite employers and educators to use mentoring as a tool to facilitate diversity and inclusion. We hope deploying this strategy will help people with disabilities to develop credible professional identities so they too are able to contribute to the economy.

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