Updated: 7 days ago
Kruti Parikh Shah , clinical operations pharmacist, Rush University Medical Center On 3/7/23 at 8:00 AM EST
Albert Einstein, Emily Dickinson, Bill Gates, Dan Aykroyd, Mary Temple Grandin, and Simone Biles—other than their remarkable talents and achievements, they each have in common a developmental disability.
March, recognized as National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, is an ideal time to raise awareness and initiate action around this diverse group of individuals with chronic mental or physical conditions that arise before adulthood. Most common examples are autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), epilepsy, down syndrome, cerebral palsy and learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, and Tourette's Syndrome.
Conditions such as ASD, ADHD, and learning difficulties are often considered neurodiverse, a term that refers to the fact that some individuals may have a variation in neurocognitive functioning of the human brain, and that differences should not necessarily be viewed as deficits.
Developmental disabilities fall under an umbrella term: disability, which according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, is defined as a current or a history of physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of an individual, such as caring for oneself or performing manual tasks.
One in four, or 26 percent of adults in the United States, have a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Disabilities can be apparent or non-apparent. Apparent disabilities are often visible at first glance, such as conditions requiring a wheelchair or walking cane. Ninety-six percent of severe disabilities are not apparent and include some developmental disabilities, anxiety, depression, diabetes, or hearing impairment.
Those with disabilities form a diverse group crossing lines of age, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. This implies that those with disabilities constitute the largest minority group in the United States, yet, they are the most underrepresented in the workforce.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, across all age groups, persons with a disability were much less likely to be employed than those with no disability.
At a time when 90 percent of companies claim to prioritize Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), only 4 percent consider disability in those initiatives, according to Harvard Business Review. The gap is likely due to a complex mixture of psychological, cultural, and structural barriers in inclusion and accessibility.
A father and daughter holding hands. D Logan/Classicstock/Getty Images
People with disabilities are often perceived as being weak, inefficient, and even worse, a burden on society. What many often do not realize is that it is the people with disabilities who are constantly rising to challenges in a world that is not made for them. Many are innovators, problem solvers, empathetic, and kind.
As an individual of Indian origin who was diagnosed with mild to moderate hearing loss at a young age, I can testify to the prevalence of stigma, bias, and stereotypes associated with disabilities.
While I was growing up in India, I was not provided with hearing aids, merely due to the detrimental effect of bullying and social isolation, which could have resulted from the visibility of my disability.
I knew I was at a major disadvantage compared to my fellow classmates who were fully hearing. Given these circumstances, I mastered the skill of working hard, focused listening, reading lips, supplementing reading at home, asking my parents for help, and advocating for myself.
After the tragic death of my father when I was a teenager, my mother took on the responsibility of myself and my two younger siblings and immigrated to Canada, where I finally got hearing aids. Even though my quality of life improved with hearing aids, what did not change was the stigma and judgements associated with disability.
In a competitive world of college applications, admission tests, and pharmacy school interviews, I did not want anyone to doubt my ability, skillset, or talents. I chose to remain silent about my disability because I did not feel safe in the race to becoming a successful pharmacist. I struggled to find disability diversity in the health care field; I did not see one pharmacist leader who self-identified as disabled at institutions where I worked after earning my doctor of pharmacy degree.
As a clinical operations pharmacist with hearing loss, now working at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, people like me with different disabilities are given a safe, judgement-free space in a disabilities employee resource group which meets bimonthly.
Administrators, policy makers, community leaders, and advocates can greatly improve the careers and workplace cultures for those with disabilities in several ways. They can form a disability employee resource group to raise awareness, hire a disability consultant, address structural or technology accessibility barriers, provide centralized funding for accommodations, and review accommodations guidelines to make every effort to level the playing field.
Additionally, colleagues, managers, leaders, and administrators can work to listen and be proactive. If an employee discloses a disability, ask them what they might need.
Accessibility creates inclusion and benefits all. Fostering a respectful, empathetic, supportive culture not only offers a competitive advantage, but it is the right thing to do. When disability inclusion is ensured, belonging is inevitable. Including disability diversity in every organization will give someone who is different a chance, creating a platform for everyone to thrive.
Kruti Parikh Shah, doctor of pharmacy (PharmD), is a clinical operations pharmacist at Rush University Medical Center, a disability lead fellow, and a public voices fellow through The OpEd Project.
The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.