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.
There are several reasons to consider hiring people with disabilities at your company.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
It’s not enough to wish you had more disabled people working for you. You must take action by doing the following:
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.
Examine your current hiring process and make improvements. Consider the following tips:
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:
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.
Consider the following tips for empowering your employees with disabilities:
Many large corporations are taking the lead in championing diverse talent:
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.