Overlooking Individuals With Disabilities Is Costing Your Company

Employers and their recruiters need to expand their hiring efforts to include qualified employees who also just happen to have disabilities. The facts just can’t be ignored any longer. Businesses that hired individuals with disabilities had higher revenue and doubled their net income between 2015 and 2018, finds one report, and the US Department of Labor has said that employers of people with disabilities show better retention, productivity and workplace safety rates.

These characteristics are critical to business success, especially in today’s labor market. Unemployment is hovering at historic lows and job seekers are looking for higher salaries and better benefits. And that’s not all they’re after — a survey by Accountemps found that next to salary and vacation time, job candidates really care about culture. Recruiters need to do everything they can to make an organization’s office culture stand out. 

A sustained, cultural commitment is required, not just a nice idea that ebbs and flows with company leadership. Combined with superior financial benefits, it’s an unstoppable one-two punch for both the employer and employee. 

It’s not hard to find great employees with visible or invisible disabilities — disabilities you can’t “see” that might include diabetes, migraines or types of mental health disorders. The unemployment rate for this group is more than double the national average. What recruiters and hiring organizations may not know though, according to the Secure Work Coalition, is that there’s a pool of about 8.5 million former workers to recruit from through a little known Social Security Administration program called Ticket to Work.

These are individuals with wide-ranging skill sets who had to stop working for a year or more due to a disability and now receive Social Security Disability Insurance. Most — 52% according to Allsup’s data— would like to work again, and perhaps 5-18% might be able to return to work if their condition stabilizes or can be better managed. Among the benefits of SSDI are Medicare coverage and free help getting back to work through
Ticket to Work with the help of an employment network. Allsup Employment Services, one such employment network, has found that while the motivation to return to work is strong, the perceived barriers of returning to work are just as powerful.

Capable applicants worry they will be impeded by the still common misconceptions about individuals with disabilities. For example, many employers believe that such workers will cost them more in terms of lost productivity or increased accommodations. But, 59% of accommodations actually cost nothing, according to a Job Accommodation Network survey, and retaining skilled workers with disabilities can actually save employers valuable time and money. For example, there are low-cost, reasonable accommodations like adjustable desks or color-coded keyboards.

In addition, employers can receive tax credits by hiring individuals from certain groups, people with disabilities among them.

The reality is that physical and invisible disabilities are already within employers’ current employee population. One in four of today’s 20-year-olds will experience a disability before turning 67, and the odds are further stacked against individuals beyond their twenties. So, even if an organization doesn’t actively recruit workers with disabilities — only 28% say they do—it’s probable that at some point, someone in their workforce will be managing a disability.

If the disability is severe, it’s important that employers keep communication lines open. There may be an opportunity to re-hire recovered dedicated former workers for their old position, or hire them to do a different job in the organization. Advantages include their familiarity with the company, its operations, and expectations. Rehired staff are loyal, hardworking, contribute to the bottom line and further illustrate the value of an inclusive work culture for all employees. In light of the current U.S. economy, there are new opportunities for this employee population and for employers who focus on recruiting new and retaining current employees. Perhaps in the past recruiters could ignore the talent pool found among people with acquired disabilities, but those days are gone. The professionals who change their approach and broaden their reach to this talent market will be amazed to learn how much they’ve been missing, and how successful they can be.

Mary Dale Walters
Mary Dale Walters is the senior vice president of strategic communications at Allsup, a member of the Secure Work Coalition. She focuses on the company’s efforts to advocate, educate and ensure access to a continuing quality of life for tens of thousands of people with acquired disabilities across the country.

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