Ableism is defined as, “discrimination in favor of able-bodied people.” Ableism is most often associated with disabilities, but it can also be applied to people who we call seniors in our society.
One question which may come to mind is, who set the retirement age at 65? The answer may be somewhat of a surprise. On his blog, Tim Kastelle posted, “The age of 65 was originally selected as the time for retirement by the “Iron Chancellor,” Otto von Bismark of Germany when he introduced a social security system to appeal to the German working class and combat the power of the Socialist Party in Germany during the late 1800s. Somewhat cynically, Bismark knew that the program would cost little because the average German worker never reached 65, and many of those who did, lived only a few years beyond that age. When the United States finally passed a social security law in 1935 (more than 55 years after the conservative German chancellor introduced it in Germany), the average life expectancy in America was only 61.7 years.” Today, after more than 80 years, the department of social security calculates,
“A man reaching age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 84.3.
A woman turning age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 86.6.”
Many of us spend considerable time planning for retirement at 65, but for many, it may not turn out to be all we expected. People come out of retirement for many reasons and in an article on The Street web site Kathryn Tuggle lists five of the most common:
- “Pursue an encore career. An encore career allows retirees to pursue a profession that may boost their financial stability while also providing personal fulfillment.
- Have a purpose. A recent Encore.org study revealed more than 4.5 million people between the ages of 50 and 70 are involved in encore careers. Popular sectors for these careers include public service, education, or other opportunities that allow people to give back.
- Stay physically active. Very few people plan to retire and just do nothing. Oftentimes people who leave the workforce find that they not only miss the routine of having somewhere to be every morning but also crave the physical exercise associated with climbing stairs, walking around the office, or traveling to meetings and conferences.
- Understand your financial need. Some retirees may not need additional funds for themselves but may go back to work due to unexpected family expenses.
- Keep the mind sharp. Doctors recommend that retirees keep their minds active to avoid premature memory loss. According to the Center on Longevity at Stanford University, work plays a key role in keeping the mind functioning optimally.”
So does being past retirement age mean we have no longer have value in the workplace? Maybe we should be asking that question of former President Jimmy Carter, who, now in his 90’s, is still active in “Habitat for Humanity,” while fighting cancer, and if that wasn’t enough still remains politically active. Or maybe we might want to consider the late professor Stephen Hawking who passed away at 72 and despite his age and a debilitating illness, continued teaching as well as working on his theories relating to the universe. These are just two famous examples of why hiring practices need revision. No one knows how much talent and knowledge has been lost due to the practice of ableism. These underutilized workers are a potentially untapped resource of talent.
Age is not the only concern
The US Dept. of labor posted the following information relating the employment rates for people with a disability:
April 2018 Disability Employment Statistics
Ages 16 years and over
Labor Force Participation
- People with disabilities: 20.9%
- People without disabilities: 68.3%
- People with disabilities: 8.0%
- People without disabilities: 3.5%
It is important to recognize that what is missing in these statistics is the number of talented individuals with a disability who have simply given up trying to find work or are forced to rely on family members to subsidize what they receive from social programs. In his book, Hidden Talent, Mark Lengnick-Hall wrote: “Most people with disabilities want to work. Sixty-seven percent of people with disabilities who are unemployed say they prefer to be working” (p. 3)
On their website, the Pew Research Center states: “As the year 2011 began on Jan. 1, the oldest members of the Baby Boom generation celebrated their 65th birthday. In fact, on that day, today, and for every day for the next 19 years, 10,000 baby boomers will reach age 65. The aging of this huge cohort of Americans (26% of the total U.S. population are Baby Boomers) will dramatically change the composition of the country. Currently, just 13% of Americans are ages 65 and older. By 2030, when all members of the Baby Boom generation have reached that age, fully 18% of the nation will be at least that age, according to Pew Research Center population projections. But don’t tell Baby Boomers that they are old. The typical Boomer believes that old age does not begin until age 72”.
What is interesting is that one of the concerns with this mass retirement is the possibility of a business Brain Drain. By Brain Drain, we are referring to the loss of those skilled employees who have experience and have been successful at their jobs. They are a potential resource.
When exploring the potential of employees, perhaps one great loss to the workforce and society is the 60%+ people with disabilities who are unemployed. Approximately 1 in 5 Americans or 20% of the population has a disability. Lengnick-Hall states: “72% of working people with disabilities have high school diplomas or a higher education. However, of those with a college degree, 55% are unemployed, compared to 14% of college-educated people without disabilities.”
Why don’t more employers hire people with disabilities? Some of the reasons are based on ignorance, some are based on stereotyping or prejudice. Many of the reasons date back to the industrial revolution where the value was placed on physical abilities. The age of the assembly line brought long hours of strenuous work, and any sort of industrial accident resulting in a disability went unforgiven.
There are many negative attitudes or misunderstandings about hiring a person with a disability such as:
- Many employers believe that hiring people with disabilities will result in higher costs in health insurance claims.
- Employees with disabilities have more accidents at work.
- Employees with disabilities are less productive compared to non-disabled employees.
- There is an increase in sick time and a lack of reliability among employees with disabilities.
- The cost of associated complying with accessibilities and job accommodations out weights the value of hiring such employees.
Many companies use the strategy of ignoring applicants with disabilities in favor of the non-disabled applicants. Lengnick-Hall warns: ”Of course the potential costs of such a strategy include getting sued for discrimination, loss of reputation in the community resulting in bad publicity, and perhaps loss of customers with disabilities who find other companies with whom to do business”. (p. 5)
The Jobs Accommodation Network (JAN) has been involved in ongoing research for many years and; “the study results consistently showed that the benefits employers receive from making workplace accommodations far outweigh the low cost. Employers reported that providing accommodations resulted in such benefits as retaining valuable employees, improving productivity and morale, reducing workers’ compensation and training costs, and improving company diversity. These benefits were obtained with little investment. The employers in the study reported that a high percentage (58%) of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make ($0), while the rest of the accommodations made had a typically cost only $500”.
This all comes down to, in many cases, business just focusing on the cost of workplace accommodations, which is shown to be low cost, but have high returns. There are organizations out there like JAN that help employers with accommodation concerns and remind business owners that the ADA prohibits discrimination based on assumptions, stereotypes, or any myths or presumption an employer may have about hiring people with disabilities. Business also should be aware the EEOC is targeting these cases.
Before we can begin to have equal opportunity in employment it is important to realize that currently little is being done to cause effective change. The current efforts have done little to bring about change in attitudes and hiring practices. As reported by in Ability Magazine: “Numeric goals being set by companies to hire so-many of this type of person, and so-many of another type, work only to create a foundation for future failure”.
It may seem like a simple matter to hire people from a minority group, but it is a different matter to treat them the same as you would any other employee. The answer to this dilemma is to create an environment of inclusiveness, which is to include many different types of people and treating them all fairly and equally.
Working towards inclusiveness is not necessarily an easy task for a business to accomplish. Changing begins with management, they set the tone with trust and respect. From the start, business owners and managers must be ensured they want to create an inclusive environment for the right reasons. If the goal is only to appear as a positive and progressive business or to meet quotas, so as not to find yourself in court with the EEOC, failure will be the result.
However, referring back to the Ability magazine article: “if you want to truly be a part of a positive future, to benefit from the life experience and skills of all people, regardless of sex, gender or whether they have a disability, then your company will reap the benefits. Culture is key. To reach true inclusiveness, work toward cultural change to find the path to truly combat discrimination.”
The simplest step is to hire people with disabilities, but do it for their skills which your business can use. Following that then take the next step not just to meet any accommodations, but as with all employees, they are made part of the team and show thoughtful consideration and respect for them and their ideas and suggestions. Let their voice be heard.
One last comment from Ability magazine, which reports: “Companies that were the most inclusive of disabled persons attained 28% higher revenue, 30% greater profit margins, and twice the net income of their peers during a study period of 2015 through 2018.”
Not only can rethinking hiring practices the right thing to do, but as Mar Sagar wrote in his blog: “`doing the right thing’ can frequently turn out to be a profitable business decision.”
Heimlich, Russell. (December 29, 2010)Baby Boomers Retire. Pew Research Center 1615 L St. NW, Suite 800 Washington, DC.Retrieved from: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2010/12/29/baby-boomers-retire/
Job Accommodation Network, (2018), Benefits and Costs of Accommodations, Retrieved from: https://askjan.org/topics/costs.cfm
Sagar, Mark, (2019), The Business Case For Hiring People with Disabilities=Comprehensive EAP, Retrieved from: https://compeap.com/the-business-case-for-hiring-people-with-disabilities/
Kastelle, Tim. (2018) Why is the Retirement Age 65 in most developed countries? Retrieved from: http://timkastelle.org/blog/2010/06/why-is-the-retirement-age-65/
Lengnick-Hall, Mark, L. (2007) Hidden Talent, How Companies Hire, Retain, and Benefit from People with Disabilities. Praeger Publishers, Westport, CT.
Office of Disability Employment Policy. (2018) Disability Statistics. Retrieved from: United States Department of Labor, Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. https://www.dol.gov/odep/
Tuggle, Kathryn. (April 17, 2015) 5 Reasons You’ll Return to Work After You Retire. Retrieved from: The Street. https://www.thestreet.com/story/13110741/1/5-reasons-you-may-go-back-to-work-after-retiring-even-if-you-swear-you-wont.html
U.S. Dept. of Social Security. Benefits Planner|Life Expectancy. Social Security Administration, Maryland, Baltimore. Retrieved from: https://www.ssa.gov/planners/lifeexpectancy.html
Source of Images/Photos:
Diversity Plus, (2018) Diversity, Retrieved from:
Jimmy Carter, Retrieved from:
Professor Stephen Hawking, Retrieved from:
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