People with disabilities have long been excluded from or underrepresented in the workforce based on low expectations and preconceived notions about their capabilities.
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, but a culture of stigma and misunderstanding has pervaded, especially when it comes to employment.
In the last decade, however, there has been a significant increase in conversation and activism concerning fair representation and equal opportunity for people with disabilities in the workforce. The working world is changing for the better as a result – and not just in terms of inclusion.
Benefits of hiring people with disabilities
There are several reasons why you should consider hiring people with disabilities at your company. These job seekers can benefit your business in many ways.
It can increase your profit margin.
A 2018 study by Accenture in partnership with the American Association of People with Disabilities and Disability:IN reports that businesses that actively seek to employ people with disabilities outperform businesses that do not. Their revenues were 28% higher, net income was two times more, and profit margins were higher by 30%. Additionally, the Department of Labor found that employers who embraced disability saw a 90% increase in employee retention.
It diversifies your company culture.
The value that disabled workers can bring to the workplace goes far beyond numbers. Their unique perspectives help to create diverse company cultures and improve innovation.
"Hiring people with disabilities is a win for everyone involved," Mary Dale Walters, senior vice president of strategic communications at Allsup, told business.com. "Those with disabilities often look at business problems differently and bring innovative thinking to new products and customer service."
It increases employee motivation and reduces turnover rates.
Aside from the financial and economic gains, hiring people with disabilities has a positive effect on factors such as absenteeism and motivation. The Accenture study highlights six main areas of "inclusion incentives" – increased innovation, improved shareholder value, improved productivity, access to the supplier ecosystem, improved market share and enhanced reputation.
"Individuals with disabilities can bring innovative thinking, a unique perspective, and other talents that can help businesses be more productive and competitive," said Walters.
Companies that focus on diverse hiring also see lower turnover, as their employees feel greater loyalty to the company and a positive connection to its business practices.
There is a vast, untapped market.
There is a striking disparity between the current American labor market and the employment status of people with disabilities. According to the Accenture study, only 29% of Americans with a disability between the ages of 16 and 64 were employed, compared with 75% of Americans without a disability in the same age bracket.
If American companies were to actively participate in hiring people with disabilities, they would have access to a talent pool of more than 10.7 million people with diverse strengths, leadership styles and ways of thinking. The study also reports that the GDP could see a boost of nearly $25 billion if just 1% more people with disabilities joined the workforce.
There are federal and state tax incentives.
The government realizes the benefits of business owners hiring employees with disabilities (as well as the costs of making workplace accommodations), so they financially incentivize this process through 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 by state.
Why companies are holding back
Many companies avoid targeting active disability inclusion because they incorrectly assume that it will cost them money or require complex expertise – but multiple studies show that this is not the case.
Nearly 60% of accommodations cost nothing, while the rest average around $500 per person with a disability. Additionally, reports overwhelmingly show that the benefits of a diversely abled workforce vastly outweigh the costs. Being mindful of reasonable accommodation and disability inclusion from the start can also help companies avoid extra costs: Consider adding accessibility features right away and making flexible working hours and diversity training part of your workplace culture.
Specific expertise or training is not required for accommodating a worker with a disability. Because everyone is an individual and has unique needs, the best way to serve any of your employees is simply to ask what they need from you, rather than assuming they'll need a complex job accommodation, and then delivering on those needs to the best of your ability.
"Push down in your organization and reconsider outdated processes and thinking," said Walters. "Sometimes there's an unrecognized bias among hiring managers – their jobs will not be harder if they hire someone who works a little differently."
How to create an inclusive environment
The research by Accenture shows that companies that actively hire people with disabilities – identified in the study as "champions" – perform four key actions for hiring, retaining and advancing diverse talent. Champions are those who do the following:
- Hire people with disabilities
- Enable their employees to perform their job to their fullest abilities
- Engage with awareness building, disability education programs and grassroots efforts for employees
- Empower by offering mentor and mentee opportunities, implementing skill-building programs, and making space for diverse talent to hold roles at all levels
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.
The future of diverse hiring
For companies to be truly successful in hiring a diverse workforce, they need to look at it as embracing the advantages of having a group of people with varying abilities, skills and levels of intelligence, rather than compliance or perceived obligation.
"Diversity of all sorts is a good idea," said Philip La Duke, industrial safety review board member for WCG PFS Clinical and Wayne State University, and former global business principal consultant at ERM. "Not because of political correctness, but from a pragmatic business point of view."
To make your business more inclusive, start from the inside out, Walters said. "Make sure your company policies and culture are inclusive and disability-friendly. 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 a great deal of work to be done.
"Not utilizing talented individuals because they might need accommodations is a serious issue," said Diane Elizabeth, CEO of Skincare Ox. "Focus on what the person can do for the company."
Skye Schooley contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Some sources were interviewed for a previous version of this article.