Empowerment and employment of people with disabilities has become a practice at companies such as Walgreens, Bank of America, Marriott, Disney, TimeWarner and AMC Theaters. They have found that they can “do good and do well” at the same time. It turns out that when done right, employing people with disabilities can improve the corporate bottom line and improve shareholder value. However, many companies may still think of employees with disabilities in terms of quotas to meet for government contracts, or are concerned about the legal risks associated with dismissing employees with disabilities who fails to perform at their job. These are real challenges that need to be addressed. We can only be successful on a large scale when hiring employees with disabilities is “win-win” for employers and employees alike.
Meanwhile it is vital that the private sector use medical and scientific innovations to create dramatic breakthroughs that can enhance the quality of life and independence for people with disabilities. The intersections of neuroscience and nanotechnology now enable people who are paralyzed to “think” movement through new computers; provide new computer apps that empower people with disabilities who are mute to “speak” and the deaf to “hear,” and the blind to “see.” Additionally, innovations may eventually enable blind people to drive and people with Autism to “read emotions” and recognize faces. Such breakthroughs must be encouraged and brought to market. We need to enable people with disabilities to live in the most independent and least restrictive ways possible. Already, the Coleman Institute at the University of Colorado, Boulder and TEDMED are bringing some important new ideas forward, but much more can — and must — be done.
Until now far too much of our public investment has been in medical treatments and disability payments rather than cures and innovations that can make treatments and government payments obsolete. Note that at one point, America spent a fortune on iron lungs, wheelchairs and disability payments for people with polio. But the March of Dimes, federal investments in scientific research and Dr. Jonas Salk stepped in. Now we don’t have to suffer or pay for polio. Lives and dollars were saved, and America is better off.
Advertisements for private companies also play a key role in the visibility of people with disabilities. Marketing strategies that break past the pity angle can exponentially advance the perception of people with disabilities. The most notable recent examples include a Duracell commercial featuring Derrick Coleman and a Guinness highlighting a intense game of wheelchair basketball. The full advertisements are reproduced below: