To the point: "What are the biggest challenges, whether internal or external in nature, that companies face when trying to recruit and hire qualified people with disabilities? "
I've been chewing on particular a comment from jason.weppelman "There are a a lot of great people trying to help people with disabilities enter the workforce. The only way anything will change is by us working together and "rowing" in the same direction.
I know in NE Ohio we are seeing this happen. This has resulted in more businesses wanting to know more and hire. Exciting times for sure :). "
As I sat down and thought to myself, "What" does a businessman need to work successfully with HIS bosses, and HIS peers to make this happen?
As an answer, I keep coming to a "centralized" location that banks both expertise and legal support, that businesses can point to, and/or consult, in order to make this happen.
I find, that when I work to make websites more accessible, there are different "mindsets" that come to fore when I work. At the very first level, is, simply being around those with disabilities and watching them work. Pride figures prominently, and more often than not I will see them struggle mightily rather than ask for help. A lot of what I do is simply try to ensure that whatever I make, is simple, easy to use, and that interfaces are as intuitive as possible. You would be surprised how many people have a vested interest in "training" people for a product, because money can be made off of that. It's much easier -- and financially rewarding -- to make something hard and then train other people to use it, than it is to make something intuitive that people can use without the aid of someone else. Think of your cell phone, and how easy it is to use. Pick it up, punch in some numbers, and the amazing communications technology takes over. It's amazingly sophisticated, but no one thinks about the technology of the cell-towers or satellites that go into it. The bottom line is that, at the very most basic level, developing interfaces that are easy to use is one of the toughest things on earth, and you won't hear thanks from the people who use it. It's either taken for granted, or the ones who are grateful for it are so overwhelmed with other health problems, they don't have the energy to promote such a good product.
The point is, developing interfaces like that should be on somebody's checklist when it comes to funding.
Next, I put on a different "hat", and I find myself working with a different "mindset" when I am actually installing the code that makes interfaces work for screen-readers (I am NOT an expert, I have a long way to go, and I am very cautious, because it is very easy to make things worse rather than better by putting in the code at the wrong place at the wrong time). I have two very different educational backgrounds, but one is in technology -- and I find myself very often thinking "like a machine" when I work. I know that sounds strange. But machines are just "yes-no", "true-false" devices, and I find that putting on that hat and thinking like that helps me work. Assistive technology is at the end of the day, a machine. The whole point of this paragraph is that I think the people who build assistive technology are thinking with the same kind of mind-set -- it takes a particular background to think like that, and it is a different "kind" of knowledge than working with humans. To that end, an "incubation" center should be located near manufacturing centers, because what I, at least, consider a critical kind of background should be part and parcel to solving the problem of a comprehensive clearinghouse of expertise.
So two out of three components in the clearinghouse of expertise I've mentioned so far -- the expert(s) in human interaction, the expert(s) in the machinery of assistive technology (I'm including programmers and computer scientists in this group).
The third, and critical component I believe is necessary is legal. All these things cost money. They're the right thing to do, but supervisors who try to do the right thing are often up against a wall of people who don't want to do anything to take away from the bottom line. With every bone in my body, I feel that if the clearinghouse also acted as a location for legal documentation -- and this is important -- a place NOT ONLY where bosses can consult for legal guidelines, BUT ALSO go to this clearinghouse to provide suggestions, and ask for legal changes.
Right now, all these components are scattered. I think putting them together will give each of them strength. They need to be in the same location, talking to one another, so that when the time comes, and businesses are looking for help, they can know easily where to go -- just a few locations rather than many -- and receive comprehensive help.
I hope I made sense here.
Thanks for all you're doing.