The Cornell Just-in-Time Toolkit for Managers

Tips, checklists, and resources to help managers lead a disability inclusive workforce.

Topic #1
Disability is Diversity:
The Case for Disability Inclusiveness

Consider this  

  • A man who does not have use of any of his limbs wants to be a physics professor
  • A woman who is deaf wants to be an actress
  • A man who finds it difficult to concentrate wants to be a CEO
  • A man who has basic reading and writing wants to be a brokerage executive
  • A man who has difficulty standing and walking wants to be the President of the United States

If these people showed up at your workplace asking for a job, what would you think? Would you see only lawsuits, trouble and demands?  Or would you see…

  • An accomplished professor and author (Stephen Hawking—Physics professor who has Lou Gehrig’s disease)
  • The youngest-ever academy award winner (Marlee Matlin—Actress who is deaf)
  • An airline executive and founder of the e-ticket (David Neeleman—Founder of JetBlue Airlines who has attention deficit disorder)
  • A well-known successful broker and analyst (Charles Schwab—who has dyslexia)
  • The 32nd President of the United States (Franklin Delano Roosevelt—who had polio)

Disability IS Diversity at Cornell

At Cornell, we are committed to fully including individuals with disabilities in our diversity efforts and in our workforce. This commitment is driven not by charity, but by our need for talent. As a manager, you play a key role in this commitment.   

Look around you  

Whether you know it or not, about one-in-five people you see around you has a disability. Individuals with disabilities are one of the largest diversity populations in our country, representing nearly 57 million people (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012). 

A source of talent

Individuals with disabilities are a significant source of talent for Cornell. Research studies have found that workers with disabilities are talented, productive, and loyal (DePaul University, 2007; Legnick-Hall, Gaunt & Kulkarni, 2008; U.S. Dept. of Labor, 2012).  

A growing trend

The number of individuals with disabilities in Cornell’s workforce is likely to increase in the future. Thanks to improvements in accessibility, individuals with disabilities can more easily achieve higher levels of education, use effective assistive devices, travel, and can access the Internet and email as fast as anyone else. Because of these advancements, qualified individuals with disabilities are now valued workers across all professions and levels in the U.S. workforce.  

Many disabilities are non-obvious

“You look so healthy. I never would have imagined!” Many individuals with disabilities have heard this statement. Arguably, though, the majority of individuals with disabilities have conditions that are not obvious to others. Though we typically think of a person using a wheelchair when we think of disability, many individuals with disabilities who have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have non-obvious disabilities (e.g. psychiatric conditions, subtle sensory disorders, learning disabilities, multiple sclerosis or muscular-skeletal disorders).

It’s about business 

Including individuals with disabilities in Cornell’s workforce isn’t just about the law or about pity. It’s about business—it’s about ensuring that Cornell has the talent needed to move into the future. It’s about ensuring that everyone at Cornell can fully contribute to our business goals. It’s about enabling performance and productivity. It’s about preventing unnecessary and costly turnover.  

And it’s about customers 

What you stand for as an organization plays an ever-increasing role in how customers make buying decisions. About 20% of your customer base consists of individuals with disabilities. And 93% of customer’s report that they prefer to buy from businesses that employ individuals with disabilities (Siperstein, 2005). Including individuals with disabilities in the Cornell University workforce sends an important message to customers about what Cornell stands for as an organization. 

And it’s about keeping people engaged in their jobs 

According to the U.S. Social Security Administration (2014), over one-quarter of workers who are now age 20 will acquire a long term disability sometime during their working lives. This number is much higher if we include people with less severe disabilities. Employers report that keeping these workers engaged in their jobs is a clear value-add for their business (Loy, 2014).    

And it’s about being able to attract talent

What attracts people to some workplaces but not to others? Years ago, people were more likely to make this decision based on money or location. Today’s generation of job seekers, though, are more likely to choose employers who align with their values. Having a disability inclusive workplace sends a strong message to our future talent about what we stand for as a university, a message which will contribute to Cornell’s ability to be an employer of choice (PWC, 2013).

And hiring our heroes

Veterans bring a lot to Cornell’s workforce: skills, discipline, problem-solving ability, loyalty and teamwork. This is as true for veterans with disabilities as it is for others. At Cornell, we are fully committed to the inclusion of veterans, including veterans with disabilities, across our workforce.  

Finally, it’s about the law 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits disability discrimination in the workplace and in other areas of life. The ADA prohibits disability inquiries during hiring. Further, under the ADA, employers must provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities who require such accommodations, in order to effectively perform essential job functions.

Changes in the law 

The Americans with Disabilities Act as Amended (ADAAA) and Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act address disability discrimination in the workplace and in other areas of life. These regulations prohibit disability discrimination in application procedures, hiring, advancement, compensation, training and other terms, conditions and privileges of employment. In 2008, the ADA Amendments Act expanded the definition of disability and current changes in laws require employers who are federal contractors to strive toward having a workforce that consists of 7% of individuals with disabilities. 

Are we ready for the workforce of tomorrow?  

Several trends over the next decade will make it likely that Cornell’s ability to get and keep talent will be vital to meeting our business goals. The baby boomer generation will soon start to retire and there will not be enough skilled workers to replace them. People are now changing jobs more frequently. And there will be too few workers with the skills needed for several key labor market sectors (e.g. health care, IT, engineering, and education). Disability inclusive practices will be a key part of our ability to respond to these trends. As a manager, you play a vital role in our commitment to a disability inclusive workplace.


DePaul University. (2007). Exploring the Bottom Line: A Study of the Costs and Benefits of Employing Workers with Disabilities. Accessed at McDonald_Exploring_the_Bottom_Line_2007.pdf.

Loy, B. (2014). Workplace accommodations: Low cost, high impact. Job Accommodation Network. Accessed at

Legnick-Hall, M., Gaunt, P., Kulkarni, M. (2008). Overlooked and underutilized: People with disabilities are an untapped human resource. Human Resource Management. Vol 47, Issue 2.  255 – 273.  

PWC. (2013). Millennials at Work: Reshaping the Workplace. Accessed at consulting/documents/millennials-at-work.pdf.

Sipersteina, G., Romano, N., Mohlera, A., Parker, R. (2005). A national survey of consumer attitudes towards companies that hire people with disabilities. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation 22 (2005) 1 – 7 IOS.

U.S. Dept. of Labor. (2012). Myths and Facts About Workers with Disabilities. Accessed at disability/htmldocs/myths.cfm.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2012). Nearly 1 in 5 People Have a Disability in the U.S. U.S. Census Bureau News Release. Accessed at

U.S. Social Security Administration. (2014). Social Security Basic Facts. Accessed at