Ralph Waldo Emerson was noted for telling his students, "Donít tell me what I know, tell me what I donít know." I urge employers to be guided by this rule when considering hiring an individual with a disability. The infinite question employers asked me is, "What can an employee with a disability do?" This is an easy, three-part question to answer.
The first step I say is, read the biographies of John Milton (blind), Aristotle (speech-impaired), Ludwig von Beethoven (deaf), Greg Louganis (learning disabled), FDR (wheelchair user), Carly Simon, James Earl Jones, Annie Glenn, and James Stewart (stuttering), artist Frida Kahla (polio), Richard Branson, John Cambers, Charles Schwab (all learning disabled), Abraham Lincoln (manic depressive), singer Cher (learning disability), Dr. Frank G. Bowe (deaf), Joan of Arc (epilepsy), Vinton Cerf (hearing-impaired), Stephen Hawking (ALS) and Helen Keller (deaf-blind). This finite list can easily become infinite. I tell employers that every century and every generation produces people with disabilities who excel. They acquit themselves because they have the ability, determination and discipline. Imagine how poorer the world would be without the successes of Aristotle, Milton, Lincoln, James Earl Jones, John Chambers, Helen Keller and others. History, I say, spends more time discussing the accomplishments of people with disabilities than their disabilities. And so, it is the person you must see, not the disability, when considering hiring a person with a disability. Secondly, I say, imagine a world in which you are interviewing for a job you know you can do. And the person interviewing you has a disability. What is your response to being told, "Even though you have the ability, I wonít hire you because you donít have a disability." What are your reactions? Anger! Pain! Bitterness! You donít want to experience that situation, so why put others through it? The third part is discovering the benefits of Information Technology to people with disabilities. Section 508 of the 1998 Rehabilitation Act is a driving force in hardware and software accessible to people with disabilities. Microsoftís VISTA has accessible features that allow individuals with disabilities to use it. Hewlett Packard, Canon USA, Adobe, IBM, Nokia, Verizon, and other manufacturers are building accessible features into their products. These products make employees with disabilities more productive and more efficient. These products tear down information walls that historically have prevented people with disabilities from being employed. IT and Assistive Technologies equalize employment opportunities for employees with disabilities. Such technologies allow people with disabilities to be doctors, lawyers, teachers, writers, teachers, entrepreneurs, hardware and software developers, nurses, telephone operators, accountants, engineers. There are multiple resources available to employers to learn more about people with disabilities. They are the National Organization on Disability, the American Association of People with Disabilities, Job Accommodation Network and the Office of Disability Employment Policy. To learn more about Assistive technology products, visit the Assistive Technology Industry Associationís website at http://www.atia.org.