Video & Transcript: Implicit Bias - How it Impacts Disabled People & Businesses
Hi I'm Stephanie Woodward with Disability Details talking to you about disability rights, access, and life. This week we're talking about implicit bias and people with disabilities, and how implicit bias can impact not only people with disabilities in your community but also your business. So I want to start with just talking about what is implicit bias and I've just pulled up a definition right here on my phone. So implicit bias is also known as implicit social cognition and it refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner and we can have implicit bias for or against different types of people whether it's based on gender, race, different types of cultural backgrounds, including implicit bias for or against people with disabilities and I think it's really important to include the Disability Community when we talk about implicit bias because there are a lot of people who have an implicit bias for people without disabilities.
In fact in my notes here I have that the Bar Association - the American Bar Association's Commission on Disability Rights published a guide on implicit bias and that guide revealed that implicit bias against people with disabilities is so strong that one study found that 76% of respondents showed an implicit preference for people without disabilities. That's a lot and that's really impactful because even though implicit bias may not be intentional, it is still harmful and so the ABA created a resource to try to help individuals recognize their bias because the first step in order to mitigate your bias is to recognize it and then also to take steps to minimize it. So in addition to this video I am also going to be creating a blog with all of the resources that I'm going to be mentioning in this video so that you will have access to them so that you can learn about your own bias and you can work on mitigating it. And if you are watching this video thinking "I don't need that because I don't have any bias." You need this. You do have bias. I am a person who is disabled, proudly disabled and I proudly advocate for the rights of disabled people all the time and I still have bias and my bias is against disabled people. It is culturally bred into us and as much as I wish that I didn't have bias I'm working to recognize my bias every day and working to mitigate it. So if you think you don't have bias you should really work to reevaluate that. So I want to talk about how implicit bias can impact people with disabilities when it comes to employment.
The national unemployment rate is 6.8% and that's at the time that this study was published. The national unemployment rate for disabled people at that time was fifteen point five percent. So that is more than double and those are both national unemployment rates. And I want to be clear that this is not because oh disabled people cannot work or don't want to work. When we're talking about unemployment we are talking about a specific population of people who are seeking work so the definition of unemployment here is people who are actively seeking work so we're talking about disabled people who are out there looking for work. And if you're also thinking that disabled people can't or don't want to work you're also wanting to reevaluate that implicit bias you've got going on in there.
Then we got a look at the wage disparity. Even for those who are employed so we're looking at people who are employed now let's check how implicit bias is impacting wages. The National median individual earning for a person without a disability is thirty one thousand eight hundred and sixty-five thousand dollars. The national median individual earning for a person with a disability twenty one thousand five hundred and nine dollars. There's more than a ten thousand dollar gap. That's one third of the yearly salary that disabled people are making less! That's outrageous! Can you imagine making one-third less than your colleague based not on your ability to do the job any better or worse but based on a factor of your identity? This is not acceptable and it is not necessary and it is not justified.
So where does implicit bias come from?
It comes from a lot of places but one of the ways that we can see it is in job descriptions and that's where your business can really be at the front lines and start to change your implicit bias. Look to see if your job descriptions include requirements that are actually weeding disabled applicants out. Do you have requirements in there – in those job descriptions - that aren't really necessary but have a tendency to keep disabled people from applying? I'm going to give you an example from an actual job description that I found in Rochester New York for a lawyer. I chose specifically because I am a lawyer, I know what it takes to be a lawyer, and I'm a person with a disability, so I can read this job description and tell you what I think is necessary, what isn't necessary, and also what I think is probably keeping disabled attorneys who are very competent from being able to apply for this job. I'm only going over the physical qualifications of the attorney position and yes it lists physical qualifications.
"You must be able to lift five pounds or greater. Sit 90% of the workday at times. Be able to bend at the waist and be mobile when needed. Be able to read and comprehend position specific documents and correspondence. Be able to communicate in a common language with or to individuals or groups verbally and or in writing. Be able to travel occasionally when needed by the most efficient means of transportation. Be able to operate a computer, phone, and or equivalent devices. Be able to complete a minimum of a 40 hour flexible work week schedule."
Okay so you may have caught some of these and thought "Hmm. Maybe that weeds people out. Maybe that's not required." Let me just mention a few that pop out to me. "Be able to sit 90% of the workday at times." First of all, that's vague. Second, I can tell you I'm an expert at sitting because I use a wheelchair but there are standing desks. I don't know why this is a physical requirement. Why if a person would not be able to sit 90 percent of the workday, why that couldn't be something we would allow a person to stand? One that you might not think of but being able to communicate verbally may make Deaf applicants not apply because if an attorney is Deaf and they choose not to voice or they do not voice then they would not be communicating verbally. And being able to travel by the most efficient means of transportation if the most efficient means of transportation means driving then that means blind applicants are not applying for this job. So I just want you to think about how different qualifications or requirements that you list in your job applications can have a tendency to keep disabled people from even applying for the job.
Now what does implicit bias look like in the work life? Implicit bias can look like asking disabled people inappropriate questions "why are you in a wheelchair?" "as an autistic person do you have feelings?" "because you're legally blind exactly how much can you see?" (loudly) "can you hear me if I talk like this?" to a completely Deaf person. Things like that. Or making comments about disability based on stereotypes such as "I know that Deaf people are very good at seeing because if you lose one ability you become much better at another ability." (whispers) That's not true. or giving people with disabilities different assignments based on what we believe they can or cannot do. Making office spaces or policies and procedures inaccessible. Paying people with disabilities less than you pay people without disabilities. That we've already talked about. Failing to provide reasonable accommodations or assuming that they're costly. Or hosting events that are inaccessible. So having your holiday party at an inaccessible venue is really a problem and it helps to show implicit bias and here are some realities of having people with disabilities in the workforce.
On average disabled employees have a longer tenure and have less scheduled absences than employees without disabilities, so that's good for business just plain and simple. I could tell you all the good, fluffy things that are the reasons you should have people with disabilities in your business and I do believe in all of the good fluffy things but if you just want basic, plain, simple reasons why you want disabled people to work for you it's that we stay longer in our jobs and we have less scheduled absences. That is good for your business.
Another thing is over 50% of reasonable accommodations cost employers absolutely nothing to implement. Zero dollars. For example I just started at my new firm and my reasonable accommodations so far that I have requested in the office - first I had a four drawer filing cabinet and it was really tall, I couldn't reach in all the drawers. I asked for two, two drawer filing cabinets that were shorter instead. I just traded with another person and it was a free accommodation because we already had the cabinets in the office and it was just a trade. And then I had a hook on the back of my door that was really tall up that I just couldn't reach every day. I had them lower at 18 inches so I could reach the hook on the back of my door. It was free. We just had the maintenance guy come in unscrew it, lower it, and screw it back in. These are simple accommodations that have made my life easier, have made me feel like a valued employee, and it cost my company nothing. So these are just some examples of how reasonable accommodations do not have to cost a company anything in order for them to be valid reasonable accommodations.
And other benefits to hiring disabled people include improvements in profitability, competitive advantage for diverse customers, customer loyalty and satisfaction, innovation, productivity, and work ethic and safety, and inclusive work culture and ability awareness. So that about wraps it up for us when we're talking about implicit bias and how it impacts people with disabilities in your community and your business.
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© Stephanie Woodward, 2020. All rights reserved.