The theme for this year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month is “The Right Talent, Right Now.” This annual initiative held in October for the past 70+ years “celebrates the contributions of workers with disabilities and educates about the value of a workforce inclusive of their skills and talents,” writes the Office of Disability Employment Policy.
Recognizing workers’ value is particularly imperative amid this rocking economy. Being able to identify, tap into, and capitalize upon qualified, hard-working, and reliable talent who will hit the ground running is a dream goal for most employers and recruiters. However, one valuable candidate base — workers with disabilities — often gets overlooked.
With a disability unemployment rate hovering at 8 percent — more than twice that of those with no disability — there is a great deal of room for improvement. While the reasons vary, an underlying perception is that workers with disabilities are costly or unreliable performers. According to Sandy Murillo in “Top 5 Benefits of Hiring People With Disabilities,” this is because “(employers) believe we are not capable of doing the job, or because they are unaware about the many adaptive techniques and devices that are available and allow us to work.”
Many – if not most – of the concerns around hiring a worker with a disability are easily debunked. In fact, some areas of concern actually can be converted into positives.
Myth 1: They will be unreliable performers.
Murillo is emphatic: “People with disabilities are as capable as anyone else!” And, they likely already have considered and prepared solutions for any doubts that an employer might come up with.
Bear in mind that certain key requirements, including skills and experiences, must be met by any employee. So, while a visually impaired person like Stevie Wonder may not be qualified to pilot an aircraft, he can become an exceptional musician and performer among numerous other roles that non-disabled workers hold. These include attorney, information technologist, teacher, financial analyst, and so forth.
Some employers “may believe that blind people are slower … and are simply less competent than sighted people,” according to Dick Davis, Associate Director, BLIND, Inc. and Chair, National Federation of the Blind Employment Committee. His advice to employers is to ask the same questions of people with disabilities as you do of the non-disabled. Provide a detailed job description and respond to any of the interviewee’s questions as well.
Davis also suggests asking the candidates with disabilities to describe processes they would employ to get the job done. “In fact, ask everyone, not just [people with disabilities], what methods they would use.” This will not only alleviate accommodation concerns but also unearth candidates’ analytical and problem-solving skills.
Moreover, many large corporations are deliberately recruiting people with disabilities for their unique skills and abilities as well as their dependability.
“With millions of employees job hopping for higher wages, companies such as CVS, Microsoft and PricewaterhouseCoopers find people with disabilities are often more reliable and loyal,” according to Paul Davidson in USA TODAY. “And those with conditions such as autism can be more detail-oriented. Microsoft has hired more than 50 people with autism the past three years, mostly software engineers,” says Davidson.
Myth 2: Absenteeism and turnover will be excessive.
The process of hiring new employees already is wrought with anxiety. Concerns include selecting a skilled candidate who dependably shows up to work each day. These fears can be exacerbated when hiring a person with a disability. Will flare-ups of their disability cause excessive absenteeism? Will they be sick more than other employees? Will they get behind on their work?
According to Meriah Nichols in “14 Myths About Hiring People With Disabilities,” excessive absenteeism simply isn’t true. Citing studies by the National Business & Disability Council at the Viscardi Center, Nichols asserts that “people with disabilities have fewer scheduled absences than those without disabilities, and fewer days of unscheduled absences.”
Charlotte Gerber cites the Journal of Rehabilitation, saying that workers with disabilities had 1.24 fewer scheduled absences and 1.13 more unscheduled absences. Most people with a disability have honed best practices that help them avoid absences as well. As an example, “if you know that fluorescent lights trigger your seizures, you stay away from fluorescent lights, says Nichols.
Moreover, unless they have an immune deficiency, workers with disabilities often are no more vulnerable to illness than non-disabled workers.
Not only do workers with disabilities take fewer absences, but they also have longer retention records than non-disabled workers, according to Murillo. In a study of the Illinois Tollway Customer Care center, “the employees with vision loss or other disabilities and Veterans had a retention rate of 1.7 years,” versus employees without disabilities or non-veterans, where the retention rate was 0.9 years.
Myth 3: They will need costly accommodations.
Will the company have to invest in expensive technology or equipment for the worker with disabilities? Will office space need to be redesigned? How will this affect an already tight budget? These are just a handful of cost-related questions employers fear will rock the hiring boat when onboarding a worker with a disability.
The good news is that costs to accommodate workers with disabilities generally are lower than anticipated. This is because they often provide their own adaptations; e.g. hearing aids, canes, wheelchairs, etc., containing overall costs to employers to less than $500 — and more often than not, to zero.
Gerber validates this assertion, citing the Office of Disability Employment Policy’s Job Accommodation Network: “15 percent of accommodations cost nothing; 51 percent cost between $1 and $500; 12 percent cost between $500 and $1,000; and 22 percent cost more than $1,000.” Moreover, various grants and government incentives may absorb some costs for accommodations.
Additionally, companies may anticipate unexpected workplace performance benefits when hiring an employee with a disability. “New equipment often leads to enhanced efficiency and productivity,” according to Fred Cohen in “Enlightened Hiring Decisions: The Value of Disabled Workers.”
Results of the Job Accommodation Network survey “consistently have shown the benefits employers receive from making workplace accommodations far outweigh the associated costs.” These include “retaining valuable employees, improving productivity and morale, reducing worker’s compensation and training costs, and improving company diversity.”
Myth 4: Healthcare benefits costs will skyrocket.
More costly worker’s compensation or insurance is not necessarily the outcome of hiring a worker with a disability. “The worker’s compensation rate is calculated on the hazards relative to the operation of the business. It also includes the rate of accident incidence at the business site,” explains Gerber.
Gerber adds that insurance rates do not increase, as “many disabled individuals who also receive Social Security disability income also receive Medicare benefits, and others utilize the Medicaid buy-in option.”
Additional bottom line benefits
Moreover, the federal government offers a Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) to employers who hire individuals with disabilities referred by vocational rehabilitation services and who hire qualified veterans with disabilities. “The tax credit is a portion of the new employee’s salary based on the number of hours worked,” according to Cohen. This can amount to 40 percent of first-year wages based on at least 400 hours worked.
Other tax advantages for the employer include Disabled Access Credit and the Architectural Barrier Removal Tax Deduction, according to Cohen.
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