Nearly 20 million people of working age live with a disability in the US, according to Census data, while the unemployment rate among this demographic is about three times the national average. Recent research suggests that a lack of adaptive clothing suited to a professional environment may play a role in the underemployment of persons with disabilities. Kerri McBee-Black and Jung Ha-Brookshire, from the University of Missouri’s department of textile and apparel management, analyzed the professional experiences of 12 people with either physical or psychological disabilities to see what impact workplace dress codes had on their experiences in the job market. As they discovered, these rules can seriously limit their employability.
Just a few retailers, such as Izzy Camilleri or Silvert’s, specialize in adaptive clothing, which might include snaps or magnets instead of buttons, for example, or accommodate the specific needs of wheelchair users. Even fewer mainstream apparel brands, such as Target and Tommy Hilfiger, produce lines of adaptive clothing. Professional attire for people with disabilities is particularly limited, expensive, and hard to find. This lack of availability creates obstacles when trying to fit into a corporate work environment, of which people without disabilities may not be cognizant. These obstacles keep some people with disabilities out of the workforce entirely, or discourage them from pursuing careers for which they are highly qualified, McBee-Black said in an interview last month with Nadra Nittle at Racked:
One particular young woman who used a wheelchair and has a college degree and experience in the banking industry did not feel comfortable applying for a job in the bank when she graduated. She said, “I knew they had a specific dress code and that dress code would make it hard to use the restroom without assistance from others.” She was independent in every other aspect of her life but that, so she never once considered applying for a job at the bank.
It is imperative, McBee-Black argues, that more clothing retailers market adaptive clothing appropriate for the professional environment. Employers also have an important role, however, in ensuring that they are not inadvertently creating unwelcoming work environments for people with disabilities. Here are a few steps organizations can take to make their workplaces more disability-friendly:
Apple has formed a partnership with the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired to teach people with visual impairments how to code, the Chicago Tribune’s Ally Marotti reported last week:
Hadley plans to start by developing a series of free instructional videos that teach the audience how to use Apple’s Swift Playground app. The app was developed as part of Apple’s Everyone Can Code campaign, which teaches the Cupertino, Calif.-based company’s programming language, Swift. …
“For a person that’s blind, (a device) is just a piece of glass,” said [Douglas Walker, Hadley’s director of assistive technology], who has only peripheral vision. “You have to learn a gesture-based system to move through it.”
Walker swiped right on his iPhone to trigger a feature that read aloud the apps he dragged his finger over — Clock, Maps, NOAA Weather. That’s where Hadley’s videos come in: They teach viewers those gestures, allowing them access to their iPhones or other Apple devices.
The institute has been teaching Braille and other skills to visually impaired people through distance learning since it was founded nearly 100 years ago. Today, Hadley’s free tutorials on how to use the accessibility features on Apple devices are more popular than its Braille offerings. A new series of videos to be released this fall will walk users through navigating the Swift Playground app, which teaches the language through coding games.
In the US, fewer than 44 percent of people with visual impairments are employed, Marotti notes, citing data from Cornell University, while bureau of Labor Statistics data show that only 2 percent of employed Americans with disabilities are working in mathematical or computer-related professions. Teaching coding skills to people who are blind or visually impaired could therefore expand opportunities for good jobs among a severely underserved segment of US adults. This initiative also stands to benefit Apple and other employers of coders by expanding the talent pool.
Last month, Fast Company‘s Lydia Dishman interviewed blind software engineer Michael Forzano, who has been working for Amazon since 2013 after getting hired through one of the company’s campus recruiting programs (he used his laptop instead of a whiteboard to write his code during the interview). Amazon also profiled Forzano in a post on its blog earlier this year, and here is a segment from an accompanying video the company produced in which he demonstrated how he writes code: