October marks the start of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. With this year’s theme of “Access and Equity,” let’s take a moment to celebrate disabled talent, and review the reality of the Disability Divide and how it impacts opportunity in society.
The data is important to review. In the United States, the unemployment rate is double for people with disabilities versus those without a disability (7.9% vs 3.8%) despite the highest labor force participation rate for people with disabilities aged 16-65 (41.2%) since records began. Factors such as subminimum wage practices and policies such as the Supplemental Security Income, which restricts how much people can make without losing benefits, creates higher unemployment for disabled people.
The gap is changing. Some good news is that people with disabilities are joining the workforce at a much greater rate. However, unemployment rates for those with a disability remain double that of their peers without a disability. Additionally, new data from our friends at LinkedIn sourced from disability self-identification shows that, in August 2023, 53.9% of job applications from LinkedIn members who self-ID with a disability were remote, compared to 45.6% of members without disabilities.
Changing the lens. Disability is a talent pool that drives innovation. Product inclusion starts by listening to ideas from diverse voices, especially disabled talent. We see this every day. Solomon Romney from Windows Devices recently demonstrated Microsoft’s talking about the amazing things we can do when we include the disability community. He announced the new Surface Haptic Trackpad (50:47), on the Surface Laptop Studio 2 along with Microsoft Copilot, Bing Copilot, Surface Pen Grips, voice access, adaptive accessories, Seeing AI, Forza Horizon Blind Driver Assist. As Solomon said, “We are empowering people to use their devices in ways we never could before.”
Discoverability matters. We are seeing increased usage on the back of making features easier to find. Accessibility Checker, available across Office, is being used more, with an 852% increase since 2022. And Windows 11 moving accessibility to the taskbar, along with its shortcut Win+U on any Windows device, is making it easier for more people to be productive at work. The Disability Answer Desk has supported 1.5M contacts from customers and employees and continues to innovate to better serve customers. They have partnered with Be My Eyes to add “Be My AI,” an AI-powered digital visual assistant into the support process, providing instant visual assistance with any Microsoft’s product.
Empower your culture. Learning about disability and accessibility is a key part of growing a disability inclusive culture. In 2020, we took the step to make training on accessibility and disability mandatory. We are proud that 97% of our employees have completed our training and many go on to choose from 100 courses ranging from accessibility etiquette to developer training, all of which are available now at: Accessibility Resources & Training | Microsoft Accessibility. While you’re there, be sure to check out our Accessibility Fundamentals training series, created to show how organizations can create experiences that are accessible for people with disabilities.
We also believe in fair wages for all. The Microsoft Supported Employment Program has over 300 people with intellectual developmental disabilities employed in over 40 job types in 27 countries. In 2019, we asked all our suppliers to do the same and will continue to advocate for competitive wages for people with disabilities.
There’s much more to do. According to the World Health Organization, there’s been an increase in people with disabilities to 1.3+ billion people around the world. As we continue our work with nonprofits, policymakers, universities, and accessibility developers to help narrow the Disability Divide, we know that making workplaces more accessible, investing in accessibility, listening to employees, and promoting inclusive practices, collectively, can reduce the disability unemployment gap and create more opportunities for those with disabilities.