Understanding Disability as a Diversity Issue

Written by: CEHD Communications Staff
Post date: November 11, 2011

3/11/11 Approximately one-third of the allegations of workplace discrimination filed by people with disabilities involve dismissal or poor working conditions leading to resignation, suggests Texas A&M University professor Fredrick Nafukho. The findings, which appear in a special issue of "Advances in Developing Human Resources," have important implications for human resource professionals. They suggest the need for more knowledge of the different forms of disability and diversity management skills, which help avoid conflict and mistrust. Nafukho, professor of human resource development, and Richard Roessler and Kit Kacirek of University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, co-edited the special issue. "Those of us who work in human resource development know the most valuable asset organizations have is people," Nafukho says. "But people are not the same. They are very different. If we can tap into these differences in a constructive way, we’ll get the best out of people for the improved performance of their organizations." Nafukho notes that diversity can encompass any characteristic that can be used to differentiate between individuals. In terms of disability, those differences could be physical (mobility issues or chronic illness), sensory (visual or hearing impairment), cognitive (mental or learning disability) or emotional (depression or psychological conditions). The special issue contains research utilizing data from 1992 to 2008 from the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. According to the data, the most common disabilities in discharge allegations included back injuries, non-paralytic orthopedic conditions, depression and diabetes. "Since investment in human resources is about developing and unleashing individual potential, human resource practitioners need to take a proactive role in helping organizational leaders to understand the value that people with different disabilities bring to the workplace," he says. "We make it very clear that people, regardless of their differences, need to feel valued, respected, supported and appreciated in the workplace because they all offer positive contributions to the work environment."