When exploring how diversity positively impacts our economic development we also need to include the disability community.

Approximately one in five Americans has a disability; one in 10 has a severe disability. We are the largest historically excluded group that anyone can become a member of at any time. As our baby boomers age, as our disabled veterans return home, and as medical advancements continue to extend life, the number of those with disabilities will continue to grow.

The disability community is an emerging market and an increasingly powerful demographic. Globally, this market represents $3 trillion of disposable income.

Consequently, many corporations are seriously looking at the disability community and all that it has to offer. For example, the US Business Leadership Network (USBLN) is a professional organization of successful businesses. They recognize the importance of incorporating disability in all diversity and inclusion practices and how doing so positively impacts a company's bottom line. The USBLN knows it's cost effective to recruit and retain the best employees regardless of disability. They are aware research shows 87 percent of Americans surveyed prefer to patronize businesses that hire those with disabilities.

The USBLN is collaborating with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other organizations to examine successful disability-inclusive business strategies and the disability community as one of the most powerful consumer groups.

Our society needs to shift our thinking from only viewing disability as an individual medical problem that needs to be fixed or cured to valuing disability as an integral part of life. Through accidents, illness and aging, at some point in our lives most of us will become disabled. With it comes a unique life experience and creative ways in which the disabled invent their own way of doing things. After all, most people with disabilities can do anything their nondisabled peers can but may do so in a unique and different way.

Imagine how businesses and our economy could grow if we embraced it. Questions our community should be contemplating about disability:

  • How much do we really know about disability history and culture?
  • Shouldn't we reach beyond the myth and stereotype of disability to learn more about these consumers?
  • How much would our consumer base grow if we did?
  • As the baby boomers age, how do we capture and retain their rich experience in the work force for as long as we possibly can?
  • What kind of barriers do we unknowingly create through policies or business practices that not only limits those with disabilities but the growth of our community and economy?
  • What kind of a creative workforce would we have if we were inclusive of disability?
  • Do we view disability as an individual medical problem or a social construct?

While Springfield needs to continue its exploration and investment in diversity, I hope we embrace the disability community because there is an untapped richness and value here.

Katheryne Staeger-Wilson is a member of the Missouri Statewide Independent Living Council.

Reproduced from: News-Leader.com

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