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Hiring Individuals with Disabilities is a Boon to Employers

March 3, 2022

By Anthony Kaylin, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

According to the CDC, there are about 1 in 4 people in the U.S. or 61 million Americans that have some kind of physical or mental disability.  Not all disabilities are obvious such as paraplegia and quadriplegia, Muscular Dystrophy and Multiple Sclerosis, Cerebral Palsy, and amputation.  There are a number of Americans with hidden disabilities such as diabetes, cancer, epilepsy, dyslexia, color blindness, and more.  How many times have people seen someone with a disabled parking sticker park in a disabled spot but look “normal?”  People cannot assume anything.

To understand the impact on the population, census data reports that there are 42 million African Americans and 60 million Hispanics in the U.S. population.  Disability is not dependent on race, ethnicity, or gender.  It is more likely with older individuals, but it is the fastest growing minority in the U.S., and unfortunately the unemployment rate is always higher than the current unemployment rate – most recently 10.1% per the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Hiring individuals with disabilities and responding to their needs creates an environment of trust, productivity, and retention.  Most accommodations are di minimis in cost, if not free.  Employers live in a fish bowl.  Customers will see innovation in employment practices, especially if it leads to higher quality and lower defects.  Nondisabled employees will see an employer who cares about the employee, even if the accommodation is not exactly what the employee wants, and it creates a powerful retention tool opportunity.  Money isn’t everything.  Finally, disabled employees will market the company, likely passively, as a great place to work. 

But to get the sweet spot in employing individuals with disabilities, employers have to reset the culture.  Policies must be in place.  Managers must be trained, and managers’ managers must support these changes by making sure their subordinates do what they are supposed to when they are confronted with these situations.  It’s scary to be sure, but again individuals with as disability need to be kept at the same standard as anyone else without a disability.  Performance matters.  But to not have an accommodation policy or an interactive discussion with the employee requesting an accommodation can be a roadblock to good employment practices.  That’s why training is important.

Surprisingly, and not recognized, most people who are not disabled know someone who is.  It could be their own family, family friends, work mates, etc.  Whether they know someone, or not, eventually they may recognize the need for the benefits of accessibility and generous accommodation.  As discussed before, a place that cannot accommodate one disabled customer or employee may lose the business and goodwill of their relatives or friends who may have a direct or indirect role as to purchases and contracting. 

And those supporting individuals with disabilities may not accept that accommodations may take time.  The most uncompromising advocates are nondisabled best friends and members of their families, who could be outraged when confronted for the first time with disability discrimination through their close connection with a disabled friend or loved one.

One way you can learn more about hiring employees with disabilities is by joining SBAM at the 6th Annual MI Hidden Talent Workshop! Learn more about that event here.

Another great resource for employers is the Michigan Rehabilitation Services (MRS) – Business Network Division (BND).  They are a free resource for Michigan employers, and they have counterparts in every state.  They can provide guidance and assistance with the hiring of individuals with disability as well as free resources to assist the successful placement of those with more pronounced needs. Jenny Piatt, the Bureau Division Director, Business Network-Michigan Rehabilitation Services, is a great resource and should be on everyone’s speed dial.

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