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International Day of People with Disabilities 2020

Sheri Byrne-Haber

By Sheri Byrne-Haber, accessibility architect and Power of Difference (POD) co-lead for @VMware Disability

Today is the 28th International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Started by the United Nations, the goal is to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society. It also aims to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

People with disabilities (PwD) have always been on the outer fringe of employment. Before COVID, the unemployment rate for PwDs was almost two-and-a-half times higher than the  general unemployment rate. However, this average hides additional intersectional bias. For example:

  • The rates of unemployment for White and Asian PwDs is 75 percent higher than people without disabilities.
  • For Hispanic or Black PwDs, the unemployment rate is almost 300 percent higher than for people without disabilities (of any underrepresented community).

Unfortunately, the pandemic caused these numbers to worsen. A recent survey by Global Disability Inclusion showed that

  • 51 percent of PwDs have either been laid off, furloughed, or believe they will lose their job in the next 90 days compared to 28 percent of those without a disability. 
  • 20 percent of PwDs have lost their jobs or been furloughed as part of COVID-19. This figure compares to 14 percent of people without disabilities during the same period.

These alarming statistics are a call to action for all of us. It’s impossible to predict our post-COVID workplace. But at VMware, we will continue investing and taking action to create an environment where everyone can thrive—in the office or at home.

Reporting Our Progress: @VMware Disability POD

A year and a half ago, we launched our @VMware Disability Power of Difference community (POD). Since launch, VMware’s self-identification rate of employees with disabilities has increased more than 60 percent. We attribute this to:

  • The environment becoming more supportive of disclosure.
  • Targeted hiring programs like our neurodiversity hiring initiative and VMware’s accessibility program.
  • The ability to self-identify confidentially.

While this is an amazing improvement, VMware’s self-identification rate of employees with disabilities provides an opportunity for continued improvement. As co-lead for the @VMware Disability POD, we’re working to make our company a more physically and digitally accessible place to work, including:

  • Completing the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Survey benchmark and undertaking improvements identified in the findings.
  • Rolling out role-based disability awareness courses. 
  • Hosting accessibility-themed hackathons.
  • Providing closed captioning at large events.
  • Streamlining the reasonable accommodations process.
  • Making physical accessibility improvements in breakrooms and during remodeling.
  • Offering accessible onboarding.
  • Launching our disability communications hub.
  • Providing thought leadership at accessibility nonprofits.
  • Organizing speaker sessions with influential people in the disability space.

Next on the POD’s list is completing six of the DEI Survey findings to get a ranking high enough to receive Disability:IN’s “Best Places to Work for Disability Inclusion” award. We’ll also host our second annual accessibility hackathon in February 2021.

At VMware, we believe people with disabilities belong in every technology selection and development opportunity. Anyone can be a change agent to help achieve the goals of International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Learn more about today’s annual observance at And dive deeper into VMware’s diversity and inclusion initiatives at