Why, it's the millennials!
And that's because 25 years ago, the controversial notion of including children with developmental disabilities in regular education in public schools was born. My kindergartner, with a multi-handicapped label, was a student in one of Ohio's pilot classrooms.
It changed everything, not just for her and others with disabilities, but for all students, teachers, and families fortunate enough to experience it. Inclusion started in the classroom, then quickly spread way beyond it, into scout troops, baseball teams, homecoming courts, and now the workplace.
Today, we can see that the inclusion movement changed a whole generation for the better, giving young people a life experience of the heart, one that older generations never had, unfortunately.
As a result, millennials embrace differences, see capability where others see disability, and are comfortable living, working, and playing together.
They’ve been imbued with a different perspective. As one of my son’s friends observed, “When I got to college, I wondered where all the kids with special needs were. It felt strange being in school without them. I hope they’re doing okay.”
A quarter century of inclusion has raised a generation of young adults who are the best natural support of people with disabilities in our workplaces. Because, to them, it’s second nature.
Yet most employers are not tapping into this resource in their organizations, and even millennials fail to recognize that this skill of theirs is something special.
We can’t solve what we can’t see. Let's open our eyes.
How do we include people with developmental disabilities in our workplaces and communities? Just ask the millennials. They know. They’re good at it.
Today, as special-needs graduates enter the workforce, they represent the next wave of diversity, with the ability to enrich the culture of our organizations and the empathy of our employees in ways no one else can. Millennials are well equipped to help them succeed.
Does your organization – large or small – have a place for someone with special needs? It’s a question well worth pondering, deeply. And for millennials, it's a concept well worth nudging employers about.
We have the hearts and smarts embodied in the millennial generation to lead the inclusion movement in the workplace and change us for the better. All it takes is the will and the leadership of employers to make it happen, because millennials are ready to go.