THE BLOG
02/10/2014 03:27 pm ET | Updated Apr 06, 2014

Super Bowl Was a Victory for People With Disabilities

When the Seattle Seahawks crushed the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, thanks to remarkable personal statements done in TV ads by football legends Derrick Coleman and Steve Gleason, some important barriers facing America's 56 million people with disabilities were crushed as well. Coleman, who is deaf, dashed the low expectations of people with disabilities by playing a vital role in the Seahawk's Super Bowl victory. Steve Gleason played for The New Orleans Saints from 2000-2008. In 2011, Steve was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), considered a terminal neuro-muscular disease. Coleman and Gleason each starred in different TV ads showing that disability, or difference, is not a disqualifier for equal and successful participation in life.

Derrick Coleman's ad for Duracel, which tells his story of growing up as a deaf person, is in first person. "They told me it couldn't be done...that I was a lost cause...I was picked on and picked last...they gave up on me... and told me that I should just quit...so I didn't listen" is a story of millions of other Americans with disabilities share.

Today, 70 percent of working age Americans with disabilities doesn't have a job (9 million Americans). Government benefits to these individuals cost taxpayers hundreds of billions each year, yet a new polling fielded online Nov. 6 through Dec. 2, 2013 of more than 3800 Americans in the disability community shows that nearly three out of four people with disabilities in the sample say it is more important to them to "have a job and be independent" than it is "that there is a government safety net of benefits so that I will be taken care of." This holds true across political party lines.

People with disabilities (PwDs) want a hand up, not a hand out. Additionally, when asked what they see as the primary barrier to finding a job with competitive wages, the first choice of people with disabilities (PwDs) polled is that "employers think I will be less successful than someone without a disability." An overwhelming 54 percent of family/friends/providers gave the same response.

The disability community polled also sites the top ways to impact the work environment for PwDs as changes in employer attitudes, increased employer training on successfully recruiting, hiring, and accommodating employees with disabilities and a change in disability benefits so that recipients could work without risking losing them altogether. Hopefully, Derrick Coleman's success, coupled with the technology highlighted in the Microsoft ad with Steve Gleason, will show that wherever there is a disability, there is also ability.

Less than one third of people surveyed in the disability community think that "Society expects people with a disability to work" and yet 85 percent of people with disabilities say that, "having a job is important to their happiness."

More than two thirds of people with disabilities (PwDs) surveyed agree with the Derrick Coleman type attitude in that they agree with the statement "My disability gave me a challenge and I am more capable because of it" over "My disability is a barrier that limits me." PwDs who were raised after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and IDEA, ages 18-29, feel even more strongly about their capabilities, at 82 percent.

Companies such as Walgreens, EY, AMC and others have shown that people with disabilities can make outstanding employees. However, less than half of PwD respondents looking for work "have access to quality training programs, career counseling and professional resources (e.g., job coach) needed to help with a job search."

Seven out of ten people surveyed in the disability community are more likely to purchase or recommend products or services and to want to work places that are known to hire people with disabilities. This is good news for companies like Duracell, Microsoft, Guinness and Swiffer who are highlighting disability in their ads.

So in this Super Bowl, the winners weren't just the players on the field.