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When Deb Dagit, vice president and chief diversity officer for Merck & Co. Inc., took the stage for the closing keynote presentation of the US Business Leadership Network (USBLN) 2009 Annual Conference held in National Harbor, Md. Sept. 15-19, 2009, she told employers to take a risk. “Be the person that sees what is possible. Evaluate a person with a disability to determine what they are capable of, not what they have not yet demonstrated.”
Dagit, a little person, said she has encountered plenty of people who have rejected her on sight, including one prospective employer who cancelled a day of interviews after treating her to a first class flight and a night at a five-star hotel.
“We have not yet achieved the vision of economic empowerment and meaningful employment for people with disabilities that we all dreamed of,” she said. “I hear the same story, time and time again, of people stuck in dead-end jobs where they are underutilized but who stay to have access to benefits, income and socialization,” she said.
She charged the audience of disability advocates, business leaders and people with disabilities to redouble their efforts as the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act approaches in 2010.
Among her suggestions:
Dagit noted that those with hidden disabilities might choose to keep their disability hidden because of social stigma, fear of negative career impact and their upbringing. “When you are a person with a disability, you are taught your whole life to make your disability a non-issue,” she said, even though other types of diversity are now celebrated. “It’s important that we teach children from a young age to be proud of being different.”
Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
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