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Diversity in the Work Force

Diversity in the Work Force: What Does Hiring a Person With a Disability Mean for Your Business?

Diversity in the Work Force

After receiving a résumé from a well-qualified candidate, you call her to schedule an interview. After a short conversation, you are pleased and schedule a time for the candidate to visit your offices. As you are finishing the conversation, the candidate asks one last question, “By the way, where are your wheelchair accessible entrances located?” The question makes you stop and think for a second “What would it be like to have a person with a disability as an employee?”

Employers with little experience in hiring people with disabilities are often apprehensive about the associated costs and logistics. They are uncertain about how a new employee’s disability may impact current employees and wonder if their disability will interfere with job assignments and workload. Employers may not even be sure if their work environment is truly accessible. And of course, the bottom line, how much will it cost the company to accommodate an employee with unique needs?

Employer questions like these are understandable, but if they’re not addressed, they pose serious obstacles to people with disabilities who want to enter the workforce. A quick look at today’s statistics shows that employer anxiety may cause some to miss the employment potential of this rich and untapped pool of employees. For example, with the nation’s unemployment rate at a 30 year low -- under 4 percent -- many companies are scrambling to find workers. Yet despite the tight labor market, the unemployment rate among the millions of disabled Americans of working age is as high as 70 percent. Moreover, two-thirds of people with disabilities who are unemployed want to work.

Employers and human resources professionals consider many things when screening any candidate. However, when it comes to hiring a person with a disability, concerns about the cost of accommodating their special needs is usually paramount. Surprisingly, the cost is generally less expensive and the logistics easier than expected. In fact, the national average cost of providing a workplace accommodation for a person with a disability is less than $500. A small price to add a valuable employee to your business, increase diversity in your company’s work environment and help an individual find a job that not only matches your needs, but his or her skills and interests.

Beyond the cost and logistics, for some employers there is an even more pressing issue to consider when hiring a person with a disability: how will the employee’s presence affect the company? The answer: positively. According to the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, employees with disabilities in the workplace are safer, more reliable, more dependable, more punctual, and more loyal employees than their non-disabled counterparts. Not to mention that by hiring a person with a disability, employers send an important message to their employees, clients and the public that people with disabilities are productive and valued members of the work force. When a company effectively brings a new employee with a disability into the work environment, attitudinal barriers collapse, thus opening doors and minds. 

Breaking down these attitudinal barriers is now more important than ever. New federal legislation known as the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act went into effect in January 2001 and allows people with disabilities to enter the work force without fear of losing their government funded health care coverage. Prior to the Ticket to Work legislation, even a modest salary could make one ineligible for these benefits, making this one of the many daunting obstacles people with disabilities seeking employment faced. With potential for more people with disabilities than ever looking to enter the work force, it is an opportune time for employers to reach out to them, fill their employment needs and build diversity in their companies’ work environments. 

But, as an employer committed to reaching out to this demographic, how do you recruit and retain disabled employees?  There are a variety of resources out there for employers, including those offered by Easter Seals. Easter Seals job training and employment services place people with disabilities in the work force and works with employers to ensure that the employee is well integrated into the work environment and productive in their new position. Successful placements result in beneficial relationships between the new employee and the company that in turn affects the company’s other employees, clients and business.

One example of a beneficial relationship of this type is demonstrated through Joe Wyman’s employment with Pinkerton Securities in Westborough, Mass. Joe, who was employed as a security officer before he lost partial vision and short-term memory skills due to a car accident, wanted very much to re-enter the work force. Working with Easter Seals job training and employment services, Joe was able to qualify for a job as a Pinkerton security officer at one of the nation’s largest technology companies.

For Joe, the job with Pinkerton was a way to feel “among the living again.” Erin Stanton, director of human resources for Pinkerton says that Joe is one of the best employees they have ever hired. She adds, “Joe’s training cost no more than it would have cost to train a non-disabled applicant and allowed us to hire someone with the right skills and a lot of interest in the industry.” 

Click here for more information regarding Easter Seals Job Training and Employment programs for people with disabilities and employers, or call 312-726-6200. Easter Seals affiliates across the country provide job training and placement programs for people with disabilities and diversity, ADA compliance, and in-house training for employers.


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