John D. Kemp
President & CEO, The Viscardi Center
How has the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) impacted your employment journey?
It’s been revolutionary. Instead of assuming a hotel or a restaurant is not going be accessible, like they weren’t very often 30 years ago, I’m shocked and really perturbed when they aren’t! I want to ask an owner or manager, why wouldn’t you build using universal design, allowing more people to give you their money?! I’ve never needed accommodations that were unreasonable, and every employer I’ve had has easily understood the de minimis nature of accommodations. Every employer should be reasonably accommodating every employee regardless of the presence of anyone’s limitations. Whatever enhances productivity should be the standard, relative to the person’s position at the employer. Watch Mr. Kemp’s full answer to this question.
If the ADA did not exist, what do you think your life would be today?
I would feel lonely, unfulfilled, frustrated, and maybe even angry that I didn’t get to use whatever talents I have to my fullest.
What was the best career advice you have received?
It’s a combination of ‘you have to try to do your best and figure a way to be successful on your own first’ combined with ‘use a little sugar along the way’, i.e., be nice and be fair with everyone you meet, and some folks will still never be satisfied, so let them go.
What main point do you want all employers to understand about the value of people with disabilities?
Just look for great talent, and don’t be confused by people who present differently than non-disabled do. If white people only hired white people, and African-Americans only hired African-Americans, etc., we’d always be excluding really talented people from the applicant or advancement pools. People arrive with different characteristics, so learn how to accept differences and embrace great talent.
What is one thing employers can do today to build a pipeline of diverse talent that includes people with disabilities?
Ask people with disabilities to guide them to pools or sources of potential applicants and have them identify their channels of information and communications. Then, use those channels and most importantly, always make sure recruitment materials and people are ‘accessible’ in every way. Inaccessible documents, videos, conferences and even people with preconceived ideas about us are all tune-out signals that last a very long time.
Thinking ahead to ADA40, what might the workplace look like for people with disabilities?
I’m hoping we’re now at an inflection or tipping point regarding the employment of people with disabilities. Employment rate parity would be my goal for the next 10 years, enjoying the same labor force participation rate as non-disabled people. By working and demonstrating that work can be performed in numerous ways is an essential component to this. “What does work mean” will be redefined, even deconstructed to rebuild it. New technology platforms that can match a person’s personal skills inventory and desires with task(s) to be performed will arise and create connections. The world will be filled with independent contractors who are compensated for their unique contributions to products, goods and services, and ‘employers’ might have 20-30 people performing various tasks that pull the best from the most qualified who are paid a reasonable rate for the final product or service. Exciting to dream about the next 10 years!
What advice do you have for young professionals with disabilities seeking their first job or advancement within their current company?
Work is liberating, defining, enjoyable and satisfying. If you’re complaining about your ‘job’, it only reflects poorly on you and your willingness to continue to do something that doesn’t fulfill you. Yes, there will always be grunt work in every job or task, but looking at the bigger picture, you’d better find satisfaction in your overall work or you’ve put yourself in a no-win situation. I think too highly of myself to allow someone else to make me miserable every day. Enjoying your work increases your life satisfaction tremendously. And, aim HIGH, always!