National Barrier Awareness Day: Breaking Down Barriers
National Barrier Awareness Day isn’t about federal laws, building codes or really, anything mandatory: It simply reminds us to examine whether we block others in our community, or if we offer opportunities for everyone to live, shop and work.
For us at CHOICE Employment Services, a barrier is “an outside obstacle or attitude that hinders some individuals from accessing an opportunity, location or service.” Common barriers to employment that our supported employment agency deals with include age, criminal records, disabilities, drug and alcohol abuse, education, and employer biases.
So, the need for a wheelchair may bring certain limitations, but it’s not a barrier. A locked door? That’s a barrier. Yet for those who can’t walk up six steps, the open door at the top of those steps is just as inaccessible as a locked door. Public transit is great, but if a person with a disability can’t ride, that standard bus is a barrier -- as are transit hours of operation that fall outside of the typical time that riders need transportation to and from work.
There are times we understand why there are such obstacles; a century-old building, or the cost of hiring bus drivers. But as advocates for supported employment, there are other kinds of barriers we see -- unnecessary obstacles.
The most heartbreaking are the intolerant attitudes that some members of the community still cling to. Being in a wheelchair may come with limitations, but it doesn’t have to be a barrier. A hiring manager who thinks someone in a wheelchair can’t work? That’s a barrier -- a barrier to employment.
Can attitudes change? Sure. Remember, nearly all of us have a limitation of some sort: Physical, intellectual -- even personality traits like shyness can prove limiting. We learn to live with our limitations, either by overcoming them or working around them.
But another way is finding understanding community members; you who see that barriers exist around your sphere of influence. You may care enough to voluntarily make some changes or accommodations, that allow more of us, despite our limitations, the opportunity to enjoy a high-quality life.
In fact, access points controlled by others are the places we see the greatest number of barriers. Business owners, managers, even everyday employees can help unlock the “barriers” that keep others from visiting or working with them. So, how do you know if you have put up a barrier, physically or figuratively, against your friends, employees or customers?
The boss may find working with a supported employment specialist can help; Accommodations are typically pretty easy to make with a little creative thinking. They might suggest making the cupcake-decorating counter more accessible by setting up a cupcake decorating table. Uniforms requiring high heels might allow a nice pair of flats for a potential worker with difficulty walking. Or one part-time dishwasher may not be among the employees who carry trash to the dumpster.
According to the Job Accommodation Network, most accommodations do not cost anything but can have a strong impact on your company. Employers who made accommodations for employees with disabilities reported several benefits that directly affected their company. The three most frequently mentioned direct benefits that resulted from accommodations were that the company was able to retain a valued employee, saw an increase in said employee’s productivity and eliminated the costs of training a new employee.
If you’re really serious about making some structural changes to your property, talk to an ADA experienced contractor, a business association or call the Department of Justice info line (see below).
But to find employees who enthusiastically embrace the chance to make their own money (and gain more self-esteem) and help break through the barriers surrounding having a disability, try getting in touch with CHOICE Employment Services. We have extensive experience in assisting people with disabilities successfully transition to competitive community employment.
In fact, whether following the law or just making changes because it’s the right thing to do, don’t overlook possible ways to offset your own costs: According to a May, 2018 article at Business News Daily: “To help small businesses comply with ADA regulations, the IRS Code includes a Disability Access Credit (section 44) for businesses with 30 or fewer full-time employees or with total revenues of $1 million or less in the previous tax year.” IRS Code Section 190 provides a different tax deduction for removing “architectural barriers” at businesses of many sizes. Those who discover the long-term benefits of hiring employees with disabilities can also find salary costs partially offset with initial tax breaks. CHOICE Employment Services is happy to share more information on how to get started on this process.
Celebrate National Barrier Awareness Day with an open mind and an open heart. That way, when opportunity knocks for you in the form of potential employees or customers, it’ll find an open door.
The National Federation of Independent Business has their own resources: Https://www.nfib.com/content/resources/labor/heres-how-to-make-sure-your-small-business-is-ada-compliant/
Department of Justice Toll-free information line (800-514-0301).
The supported employment agency based out of Decorah, IA is online at www.choiceemploymentservices.com.