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The Harkin Institute Hosts the 2021 Iowa Summit on Disability Employment

2021 Iowa Summit

September 24, 2021

In August, The Harkin Institute hosted the Iowa Summit on Disability Employment, an Iowa-focused event based on our annual international summit, which brings together stakeholders from around the world to find innovative ways to increase employment for people with disabilities. Iowa Summit on Disability Employment

2021 Iowa Summit on Disability Employment

The Iowa Summit brought together business leaders from across Iowa to discuss successes in hiring people with disabilities and ideas for how employers could implement their own disability employment programs. As the labor market remains tight and the pandemic continues, employment practices that encourage the recruitment, hiring and retention of people with disabilities are shown to be a leading solution in alleviating these issues.

The sad reality is, the labor market for people with disabilities remains virtually unchanged from 31 years ago, when the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. A 2021 Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows the stark disparities of employment between disabled and non-disabled people. While 61.8% of Americans without a disability were employed in 2020, only 17.9% of Americans with disabilities were employed. This is while Iowa faces a low unemployment rate, 4.1% as of July 2021, and an ongoing demand for labor in virtually all sectors, particularly manufacturing.

Redefining Work for People with Disabilities

The pandemic has brought adversity to many, but it has also provided a rare opportunity to redefine work and who can work. From the massive number of employers transitioning their workforce to remote employment to the tight national labor market, employers are taking a second look at including more people with disabilities in their workforce. Iowa Summit on Disability Employment Panel

At the Iowa Summit, we had the opportunity to host business leaders and disability advocates from Iowa and across the country who shared their positive experiences when hiring and helping people with disabilities. Iowa-based employers, such as Templeton Rye and Sukup Manufacturing, shared how employing more people with disabilities helped fix their labor shortage problem. Global companies, such as Microsoft, JP Morgan Chase and T-Mobile, were also represented at the summit. They highlighted how accessibility and inclusion improvements have led to better employee satisfaction, which then passes on to the consumer. When companies work to be more inclusive, employers, employees and consumers stand to benefit.

Employers are not alone when deciding to open their hiring practices to be more inclusive. There are multiple organizations in Iowa that exist to aid employers through the process. Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services and Iowa Workforce Development are state agencies that connect you with people with disabilities looking for employment as well as assisting employers with specialized job training. Disability Rights Iowa is a legal advocacy organization that can guide employers through ADA and other disability law compliance, as well as how to proceed with human resources practices. Easter Seals Iowa provides assistive technology and other services for people with disabilities thrive in their daily lives.

Employers in Iowa have a rare opportunity to capitalize on inclusive disability employment. There is a massive group of people who are willing and able to do the work that is needed for employers. Through what we learned at our Iowa Summit, leaders were able to break through their own stigmas of hiring people with disabilities and see their investments pay off well as a result. Through the extensive efforts of the Partnership, Greater Des Moines (DSM) has been able to claim such titles as, “The Fastest Growing Major Metro in the Midwest” and “A Top Destination for Immigrants to the United States.” DSM and Iowa also have the opportunity to be a national and global leader in disability inclusion as well. Let us work together in DSM and Iowa to be more inclusive and challenge ourselves to redefine work.

Disability Toolkit from The Harkin Institute

The Harkin Institute has produced a toolkit with guidance on how to go about hiring employees with disabilities. It is also full of resources and contact information for organizations that can provide help in the recruitment and hiring process. Bookmark it and refer to it often as you start your own process.

Please keep up-to-date with the latest happenings at The Harkin Institute as we engage this policy area and others as a part of our mission to continue the career legacy of Senator Tom Harkin.

Greater Des Moines (DSM) welcomes diverse talent to the region. As one of the fastest growing business communities, inclusion and attracting diverse talent in the workplace is a key strategy of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Learn more here.

Joseph Jones

Joseph Jones is executive director of The Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Civic Engagement at Drake University.