Building a Diverse Workforce

ThinkstockPhotos-466189403This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an historic law that prioritized accessibility and inclusion in America. Thanks to the ADA, much progress has been made in building communities of inclusion.


As the US Labor Department tweeted in honor of the anniversary of the ADA, “Employment is the unfinished work of the ADA—everyone should have a chance to contribute to America’s Workforce. –@ChrisLu44, (Deputy Labor Secretary)”

Indeed, disability inclusion in the workforce is the next great horizon in American business. Contrary to popular opinion, diversity doesn’t stop with women and minorities; it also includes individuals with disabilities. Fortunately, many companies are beginning to recognize that there are many business benefits to hiring a diversity inclusive workforce.

As a corporate disability consultant, I have worked with major corporations and small businesses to help them become more disability inclusive in their hiring practices. This experience has allowed me to understand some of the fear and stigma around disability that exists in the corporate world. It has also allowed me to demonstrate to companies the proven benefits of hiring individuals with disabilities. As I like to say — it isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s good business sense.

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A study of Walgreens distribution centers completed by the American Society of Safety Engineers found that workers with disabilities had a turnover rate 48 percent lower than that of the non-disabled population, with medical expenses 67 percent lower and time-off expenses 73 percent lower. (Fast Company, “Disability Assurance,” by Sara Cann. December 2012/January 2013 issue)

Let’s talk about accommodations…

The belief that accommodations are cost-prohibitive is a misconception. In an ongoing study conducted by the Job Accommodation Network, the University of Iowa’s Law, Health Policy, and Disability Center (LHPDC), and the West Virginia University School of Social Work (formerly School of Applied Social Sciences), 2,272 employers were surveyed about accommodation cost. The study found that 58 percent of accommodations were of no cost to the organization, while the rest typically cost around $500 (a one-time cost).

The companies that provided accommodations also reported receiving multiple benefits as a result, including retaining a valued employee, increasing overall company morale and increasing overall company productivity.

Think about your customer base

According to the US Department of Labor, the market of individuals with disabilities has $175 billion in discretionary spending. Furthermore, it’s well-known that individuals with disabilities and their families represent a loyal customer base for companies that hire individuals with disabilities, meaning that your business could tap into a very large market segment by implementing disability inclusion practices.

Did someone say ‘tax credit?’

It’s true! The IRS offers several tax incentives for business that hire individuals with disabilities and make their businesses accessible to this population.

You won’t be alone

Though Walgreens was certainly a leader in the disability inclusion movement, they aren’t the only players at the table. Companies like AMC Theatres, TIAA-Cref, Office Depot, PepsiCo, EY, and others have all made recruitment and retention of individuals with disabilities a priority, and now you know why!

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month; the perfect time to advocate for the vast amount of Americans with disabilities in need of jobs and the positive change they can bring to your company.

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Kathy Bernhardt
Kathy Bernhardt is managing director of Tangram Business Resourcing. which is dedicated to disability inclusion. She can be reached at KBernhardt (at) TheTangramWay (dot) org.

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