Jul 10, 2018 - By Denise Brodey Contributor for Forbes (forbes.com)

Many disabilities are invisible so you may not know that 1 in 5 people you work with have a learning difference.

Plenty of studies show that a diverse workforce leads to business gains, either in engagement, profit or efficiency, but we're still not embracing a diverse population, often one with hidden disabilities, in large numbers. It's an untapped resource, that, for many reasons, I think will be costly to ignore in the future. As of 2016, only 18% of workers with disabilities were employed. Compare that to the 65% of those without a disability who hold jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Maybe business owners aren't even clear on what a disability looks like and who has one? Some do, but they are the exceptions.

Here are a notable few, big and small. In 2015, Microsoft created an autism hiring program. The software company SAP preceded them with an autism at work program, which started in 2013. Smaller companies, such as the nonprofit Aspiritech in Chicago, are hiring, almost exclusively, talent with high-functioning autism. As a then-Google executive and author Laszlo Bock wrote in Work Rulesany business stands to grow by leading a diverse workforce. I can’t speak for people with autism or the businesses that hire them. Seek out those voices and listen to or pick up books like Steve Silberman's Neurotribes. He argues that autism is a natural manifestation of human differences, not something to be cured, but to be celebrated. That's the good news.

Hidden Disabilities

Now for something that remains under the radar for most employers: It's that the learning disability community—adults with ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, and language processing disorders and more— often remain quiet about their challenges and successes. This huge cohort is a resource waiting to show their true strength. They are silent because there is an ongoing stigma and a lack of education around the nature of their disabilities. They are hiding in plain sight.

So what's the fix? For starters, leadership's awareness of learning disabilities. It seems to be very low. “There is this huge gap in the workplace where those issues have never been openly discussed, understood or accommodated,” says Krys Kornmeier, creator of the film Normal Isn’t Real, which profiles talented workers who have carved out careers that suit their learning disabilities and business and personal strengths and are proud of their accomplishments. I ask Kornmeier why she thinks more open-minded neuroatypical people aren’t speaking up for their needs. “Many are high functioning and successful, but if even they learned to advocate at school, they don’t necessarily tend to do the same in the workforce. They still feel they will be stigmatized."  

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