How To Support Women With Disabilities In The Workforce

From AD Club Board Member, CMO, Organic and Founder, Creative Spirit Laurel Rossi

On this International Women’s Day

I have had the honor of working with, alongside, and for many women, I’ve admired over the years. Men as well. Respect for women, tolerance, and celebration of women is in order on this International Women’s Day. We know that we need to stand up for women, however, many still go unnoticed. As Co-Founder of Creative Spirit the premier organization that matches candidates with disabilities with jobs at the best companies in the world, I wanted to point out the tremendous disparity for minority women—particularly those with disabilities and women of color. As a champion for the underserved, women of all abilities and races deserve our attention, allyship, and support. With growing interest in choosing one minority over the other, we need to advocate beyond the most capable and not settle for “passing” but for true advocacy as we dig beneath the first layer of female imparity.

Women with Disabilities

Only 34.6 percent of working-age women with disabilities (3.5 million) are employed in the U.S. compared to 82.5 percent of working-age women without disabilities. This is in line with the rest of the country. With fully one-in-four American adults having a disability, just 37 percent of those who are working age are employed, despite polls showing that most of them want to work. This leads to approximately 22.6 percent of women with disabilities living in poverty compared to 14.7 percent of women without disabilities1.

African American Women with Disabilities

About two and a half decades ago, Eddie Glenn called attention to the disparate treatment of African American women with disabilities, suggesting that a triple jeopardy syndrome put them at a further disadvantage because they were victims of race, gender and disability bias in our society,” said Donna Walton, Ed.D.

Employment rates only tell part of the story. Looking across the intersection of disability and race, there are serious gaps in outcomes. Only 28.6 percent of African Americans with disabilities have jobs compared to the 38.6 percent of Hispanics with disabilities.

The Vast Majority of Women with Disabilities Are Sexually Assaulted

An alarming 27 percent of women report being sexually assaulted at least once in their lifetime. But a shocking 83 percent of women with disabilities report the same. And they often are victimized more than once, particularly if they have an intellectual disability. People with disabilities can be extremely vulnerable, sometimes helpless to defend themselves. And those with intellectual disabilities are easier to manipulate and considered less trustworthy to police2.

What Can We Do?

In an industry where we control representation in media, marketing, and entertainment, it should be natural that we take the lead.

It also stands to reason that we would feature, celebrate and encourage more women with disabilities.  The truth is we have an opportunity to choose who and how we represent women in our industry. We also have the opportunity to enlighten others about the incredible odds of working against a majority of women who have no vehicle to represent themselves. After all, advertising, marketing, and entertainment possess disproportionate access. And, above all, access is a privilege not to be taken for granted.

1, Lauren Appelbaum Mar 13, 2019

2   Measuring #MeToo: more than 80 percent of women have been sexually harassed or assaulted. A new survey asked Americans about sexual harassment and assault. The results are disturbing. By Anna North  Feb 21, 2018