People with disabilities have long been excluded from or underrepresented in the workforce based on low expectations and preconceived notions about their capabilities.
While the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by President George H. W. Bush in 1990 opened the doors for inclusion and employment for millions of people with disabilities, a culture of stigma and misunderstanding has pervaded, especially when it comes to employment.
However, there is increasing conversation and activism concerning fair representation and equal opportunity for people with disabilities in the workforce – not to mention more employment and anti-discrimination laws in the workplace.
Today, more business owners and managers are learning how hiring employees with different capabilities and ways of thinking can positively contribute to businesses. We’ll explore why you should consider hiring employees with disabilities for your business and how to create an inclusive environment.
Business owners with disabilities can access a wealth of guides, grants, programs and loans to make their entrepreneurial dreams a reality.
Benefits of hiring people with disabilities
There are several reasons to consider hiring people with disabilities at your company.
1. Hiring people with disabilities can increase your profit margin.
A study by Accenture in partnership with the American Association of People with Disabilities and Disability:IN reported that businesses that actively seek to employ people with disabilities outperform other businesses. The report found that these companies had revenues 28 percent higher, twice the net income, and 30 percent higher profit margins.
A 2020 follow-up study found that organizations focused on disability engagement grew their sales nearly three times as much as other companies and grew profits more than four times faster.
Disabled employees in customer-facing jobs can also benefit your company by providing uniquely excellent customer service that helps make disabled customers feel welcome and appreciated.
2. Hiring people with disabilities diversifies your company culture.
The value people with disabilities can bring to the workplace goes far beyond numbers. Their unique perspectives help create diverse company cultures and improve team innovation. Since people with disabilities often encounter obstacles and problems in their personal lives, they are well suited to devise solutions to complex and unexpected business problems.
“Hiring people with disabilities is a win for everyone involved,” said Mary Dale Walters, senior vice president of strategic communications at Allsup. “Those with disabilities often look at business problems differently and bring innovative thinking to new products and customer service.
There are many tasks for which a disability enables someone to perform better than those without a disability. For example, people with Asperger’s syndrome (an autism spectrum disorder) are frequently intellectually gifted and often have excellent attention to detail and concentration. These qualities make them ideal for complex, detail-oriented jobs.
Although disabled Americans reached a historic employment high in 2022 with 37.8 percent labor force participation, this was still much less than the rate for people without disabilities, which was 77.1 percent.
3. Hiring people with disabilities increases employee motivation and reduces turnover rates.
Aside from financial and economic gains, hiring people with disabilities has a positive effect on factors like motivation and workplace absenteeism.
According to a scientific paper published in the Humanities and Social Sciences Communications journal, individuals with disabilities are highly motivated to work because, in addition to earning money, they experience social integration and participation, bolstering their identity and feelings of normalcy.
Since it may be more challenging for someone with a disability to find a job, they often respond with extra appreciation, motivation and dedication when they find a position that matches their skills and interests. This high level of employee satisfaction often results in less absenteeism, tardiness and employee turnover.
4. There is a vast, untapped market of talented people with disabilities.
A striking disparity exists between the current American labor market and the employment status of people with disabilities.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in 2022 was nearly twice the rate for those without disabilities. Additionally, 30 percent of employees with disabilities had part-time employment, compared to 16 percent of workers without disabilities.
If American companies actively participated in hiring people with disabilities, they would have access to a talent pool of millions of people with diverse strengths, leadership styles and ways of thinking.
5. There are federal and state tax incentives for hiring people with disabilities.
The government realizes the benefits of business owners hiring employees with disabilities – and the costs of making workplace accommodations – so it financially incentivizes the process via tax benefits.
Federal financial incentives include the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), the Architectural Barrier Removal Tax Deduction and the Disabled Access Credit. Employers can also take advantage of state tax credits, although these vary.
If you’re an employer offering disability leave to an employee, it’s crucial to understand your state’s regulations surrounding short-term and long-term disability benefits.
Why companies may hold back from hiring people with disabilities
Some companies avoid diversity, equity and inclusion practices because they incorrectly assume it will cost them excessive money or require complex expertise. However, this is not the case.
Here’s what companies should know about hiring people with disabilities:
- Hiring people with disabilities isn’t prohibitively expensive. According to the S. Chamber of Commerce, nearly 60 percent of business accommodations for employees with disabilities cost nothing. The remaining 40 percent averages around $500 per person. Additionally, reports overwhelmingly show that the benefits of a diversely abled workforce vastly outweigh the costs.
- Preparing can save time and money. Being mindful of reasonable accommodations and disability inclusion from the start can also help companies avoid extra costs. For example, consider adding accessibility features immediately and making flexible working hours and diversity training part of your workplace culture.
- Ask employees what they need. Because everyone is an individual and has unique needs, the best way to serve any employee is to ask what they need from you. Don’t assume someone needs complex job accommodations, and deliver what they do need to the best of your ability.
- Be mindful of workplace and hiring biases. Be mindful of unconscious or conscious discrimination in the workplace or hiring process. “Push down in your organization and reconsider outdated processes and thinking,” Walters advised. “Sometimes there’s an unrecognized bias among hiring managers – their jobs will not be harder if they hire someone who works a little differently.”
The remote work trend lends itself to the inclusion of more employees with disabilities. They’ll likely have the accommodations they need at home and can immediately contribute.
How to create an inclusive environment
Companies with an inclusive environment for employees with disabilities perform five key actions for hiring, retaining and advancing diverse talent. Consider implementing the following best practices in your business:
1. Create a commitment and concrete goal for inclusive hiring.
It’s not enough to wish you had more disabled people working for you. You must take action by doing the following:
- Devise specific, measurable goals for your workforce.
- Encourage employees to self-identify as disabled so you can accurately track your progress.
- Communicate your inclusive hiring goal to every department and hiring manager in your company.
- Educate your hiring managers about how disabled workers can contribute and how specific disability types can make job candidates more suited for certain positions.
Additionally, consider partnering with workforce development organizations like state vocational rehabilitation agencies, your local Center for Independent Living chapter, the VA and the Social Security Administration’s Ticket to Work program.
2. Improve the hiring process.
Examine your current hiring process and make improvements. Consider the following tips:
- Write inclusive job descriptions. Write an inclusive job description with specific information about job duties, the work environment, physical requirements and workplace culture. If you have flexible benefits like flexible scheduling, remote work or PTO, mention this.
- Use open-ended language. When describing job requirements, use more open-ended language. For example, instead of saying employees must be able to drive between multiple locations, say they must be able to travel between multiple locations. Instead of saying they must be able to stand for long periods, say they must be able to remain at a workstation for long periods.
- Mention interview accommodations. When communicating with all job candidates, tell them they can request accommodations for the interview. This will put disabled candidates at ease and let them know the company has a welcoming culture. Understand the interview questions related to disability-related inquiries you aren’t allowed to ask, and avoid them.
- Train hiring managers the right way. Train hiring managers to treat all job candidates as capable adults and evaluate each person only in regard to position suitability, skills and relevant traits specifically related to the job instead of looks, disability or other biases.
3. Help employees perform their jobs to their fullest abilities.
After hiring a disabled individual, communicate about any needed accommodations – preferably before they start work. Know where this employee will be stationed, and be prepared to describe the physical work area. When the new employee starts, any accommodations should already be in place to avoid an awkward delay.
Job accommodations may include:
- Screen-reading software for employees with impaired vision
- Raised desks and wider aisles for employees in wheelchairs
- Job coaching for employees with intellectual disabilities
- Remote work
- Reasonable adjustments to work processes
4. Prepare employees to welcome co-workers with disabilities.
Your company may do everything right from a managerial point of view. However, disabled employees can’t be comfortable and productive unless their co-workers treat them well.
To ensure a smooth transition after hiring someone with a disability, implement disability inclusion training for all. This will prepare your team to welcome colleagues with disabilities and ask questions about ensuring a smooth transition. Disabled employees can speak up and answer questions directly if appropriate.
Set the tone with employees by communicating your happiness in having each new employee join the team and your high hopes for collaboration, inclusion and overall productivity.
5. Provide ongoing empowerment for employees with disabilities.
Consider the following tips for empowering your employees with disabilities:
- Establish mentoring programs. Help employees with disabilities establish mentoring relationships with executives in the organization to help nurture their careers. If you have a disabled executive available as a mentor, provide this option, but be flexible.
- Provide skill-building options. If your organization is larger, consider providing skill-building programs. If you have a smaller company, consider paying for outside employee skill training.
- Promote on performance. Be clear that all employees will be considered for promotion within the company, and then follow through on that promise.
Many large corporations are taking the lead in championing diverse talent:
- Bank of America brought together a group of 300 people with intellectual disabilities to create a support services team that manages fulfillment and external clients.
- Microsoft created a hiring program specifically for people on the autism spectrum.
- Starbucks opened its first Signing Store in Washington, D.C.
Organizations should also provide business accommodations for customers with disabilities to ensure inclusion.
The future of diverse hiring
For companies to be truly successful in hiring a diverse workforce, they must see it as embracing the advantages of having a group of people with diverse abilities and skills – not acquiescing to compliance issues or perceived obligations.
“Diversity of all sorts is a good idea,” said Philip La Duke, author of four books on workplace safety. “Not because of political correctness, but from a pragmatic business point of view.”
To make your business more inclusive, start from the inside out. “Make sure your company policies and culture are inclusive and disability-friendly,” Walters advised. “That means everything – employee handbooks, procedures and practices – should take into account that what many think of as a standard is not a standard for others.”
People with disabilities stand to bring success, diversity and increased motivation to the workplace, but they are still fighting against decades of stigma and discrimination. More companies are seeing the benefits of fully inclusive hiring, but there is still much work to be done.
“Not utilizing talented individuals because they might need accommodations is a serious issue,” said Diane Elizabeth, author of Green Is the New Black and founder of Skincare Ox. “Focus on what the person can do for the company.”
Kiely Kuligowski contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.