Like cream, Minnesota always rises to the top in quality-of-life rankings. Our virtues were validated again when the U.S. News & World Report recently ranked Minnesota second in the nation for opportunity. Yes, opportunity. In the case of U.S. News, it’s a catchall term for indicators of upward mobility.
For people with disabilities, opportunity affords hope. It’s a big, buoyant word that promises dignity, self-reliance and independence. And for nearly 600,000 Minnesotans with disabilities, that means a lot.
Yet opportunity remains an airy aspiration for too many Minnesota employers who resist hiring workers with disabilities. Their attitudes about the limitations and requirements of workers with disabilities are often unfounded. But the barrier is real: About twice as many people with disabilities are unemployed.
As we observe National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October, we have an objective way to measure employer progress toward inclusive hiring practices: the Disability Equality Index (DEI). This year, some of our state’s leading businesses earned scores of 100 percent.
The DEI, created by the American Association of People with Disabilities and the U.S. Business Leadership Network, is a national benchmarking tool to help businesses objectively measure their disability inclusion policies and practices. It ranks criteria from culture and leadership to employment practices, benefits and companywide access.
And employer participation is growing. Of the 110 companies that completed the index in 2017, 68 earned an optimum score of 100 on the survey — including three headquartered in Minnesota: 3M, Cargill and Mayo Clinic.
But Minnesota is home to more Fortune 500 companies per capita than most other states. We can do better.
3M, long a champion for employees with disabilities, offers training and employment, physical accommodations, access to an employee resource group, flexible work arrangements and individual assistance. Still not satisfied, this exemplary manufacturer is working to double its pipeline of diverse management — including hiring people with disabilities.
MDI, another Minnesota-based manufacturer, has built its business model around disability inclusion. Here, almost half the workforce includes people with disabilities. They work alongside others and earn competitive wages, full benefits and vacation time.
MDI knows that most employer accommodations cost less than $400 and may benefit other employees without disabilities as well. When needed, the fixes are usually simple things: adjusting schedules, allowing stools on the assembly line, breaking down assembly processes or modifying workstations.
No doubt other fair and forward-minded businesses deserve recognition for their inclusion efforts. But many more could benefit from some peer prodding and best-practice sharing — all offered by our local companies who participate in the DEI. Both employers and workers can get support they need, often at no cost. Other nonprofits, such as Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota, Opportunity Partners, ProAct and Rise Inc., can provide such support.
Considering the vast, untapped potential of workers with disabilities, and in recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we challenge Minnesota employers to make opportunity more than a high-flying promise. Participating in the Disability Equality Index is a good place to start.
Peter McDermott is president and CEO of MDI. Rhonda Graves was chief diversity officer at 3M Co. and is a member of MDI’s HR/employment services committee.