A Letter from the CEO: Making the Workforce More Inclusive

For nearly 50 years, the National Center for Learning Disabilities has advocated for children and young adults with learning disabilities and attention issues. As we’ve uncovered more data and evolved our mission and programming, we have found ourselves in the midst of a great opportunity. Many young advocates from our Young Adult Leadership Council have transitioned from high school to college. They are now entering the workforce, helping us better understand the need for a more inclusive workplace.

Our preliminary research indicates that individuals with disabilities are underrepresented in today’s workforce, and there is limited information about the employment-to-population ratio for workers with learning disabilities. While access to employment is essential for economic survival, it is equally important to create conditions that enable people with learning disabilities to thrive in the workforce. This includes providing opportunities and support to foster a hopeful and purposeful future.

Earlier this year, we launched a steering committee composed of advocates, employment experts, researchers, and other champions to explore how to remove barriers for youth and adults in the workforce. The steering committee and parallel landscape analyses concluded that NCLD has a role in bridging the divide between employees and employers and filling gaps to support workers with learning disabilities.

We see enormous opportunity and work ahead of us, but we seek to remain grounded in four key principles: 

  1. Clear identification of employment and workforce barriers and challenges is essential to create equitable and lasting organizational and public policy solutions for more inclusive workplaces to develop greater economic security for people with learning disabilities.
  2. Research and data allow clear articulation of the questions and gaps between employees and employers, and a solid, evidence-based foundation to develop and release tools and resources to address such gaps.
  3. Workforce and employment engagement requires cross-sector and coalition work. Bridge-building between employers and employees through resources, toolkits, and easy to understand and implement materials is a key to success and support.
  4. Companies with more inclusive workforces are more successful. Creating opportunities to support transitioning youth entering the workforce, training employers to embrace and support employees (beyond the floor of the ADA), and developing cultures of belonging.

Although just getting started, we have already found incredible allies and advisors among those who participated in the steering committee, Kim Knackstedt of Unlock Access LLC, the research teams at WestEd and Harvard Graduate School of Education, who are supporting research projects that will produce novel data on workforce development and employment experiences of people with LD. Members of the NCLD team will be attending the 2024 Disability:IN conference, also coined “the Global Corporate Disability Inclusion Event of the Year,” in Las Vegas in July to connect further with employers and advocates committed to neurodiversity-focused hiring initiatives. If you’ll be there, say hi to Nick Boerum, our director of development, and Nicole Fuller, our policy manager!

This work is not easy, but it is necessary. Over the years, we’ve often found ourselves having to carve out a space for our voices to be heard in policy discussions. This time, we understand that creating lasting change will require both “big P” Policy and “little P” policy. Our goal is to improve workforce development and make employment more inclusive for people with learning disabilities.