The community of disabled workers is an overlooked labor resource. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a disabled worker is ‘a person who: has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major activities; has a record of such an impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment.’; mental illness, intellectual disabilities, and physical disabilities are all included (US Department of Labor). Within that definition, there is no mention of being incapable.
While the unemployment rate has steadily declined over the last five years, there are still millions of Americans without a job (US Department of Labor). With a workforce shifting toward information technology and knowledge-based positions, disabled Americans are just as qualified as those without disabilities to fill these roles. With proper training and by taking the necessary accommodations, if needed, hiring individuals with disabilities can become the norm allowing everyone a fair chance at a good job.
In today’s society, there is a lot of talk about diversity; often, diversity of race or gender. Even in the workplace, many employers seem to only focus on diversity between the two, completely omitting disabled people from the conversation, therefore, leaving out diversity of ability (Lengnick‐Hall, Gaunt, & Kulkarni, 2008). This disclusion stems from prejudice and a lack of understanding.
Diverse work environments are quintessential to a modern, evolved workplace; people of all sorts independent of their background and abilities should be represented. We are proponents on accentuating people’s abilities and providing education and other means to capitalize on their strengths. It is a fact that employers seem to have predispositions towards people with disabilities (PWDs), citing costs, constraints, and limited capabilities as reasons not to hire them (Lengnick‐Hall, Gaunt, & Kulkarni, 2008). However, these beliefs are largely stemmed from stereotypes and a lack of overall knowledge, and still actively hindering many people with disabilities from accessing better job opportunities.
Studies have proven that employers often express the same, general concerns about hiring disabled workers. They believe that these individuals may lack the necessary knowledge, skills, and physical abilities leading to concerns that these individuals may not be as productive and therefore affect the bottom line of direct labor costs (Lengnick‐Hall, Gaunt, & Kulkarni, 2008). They also claim that people with disabilities could increase health care costs as they may require expensive accommodations, cause safety problems. Research has also shown that some employers were also concerned that they may sue for discrimination, hurt coworker morale, and affect customers negatively (Lengnick‐Hall, Gaunt, & Kulkarni, 2008). These predispositions towards people with disabilities have left a staggering number of capable people without work.
Thankfully, there has been extensive research on the benefits of disabled workers and the effect hiring people with disabilities has on employers. People with disabilities make up a large, untapped labor resource that could greatly improve any company’s workforce. Approximately only 38.1% of individuals with disabilities are employed, leaving the majority unemployed (Lengnick‐Hall, Gaunt, & Kulkarni, 2008). Simply put, there is a large number of capable Americans ready and willing to work. If there are individuals applying for jobs, able to work, wanting to work, it is management’s role to help train them and prepare them for the job; if they want workers, help them. Also, according to managers, these individuals are hard workers that statistically tend to stay with a company for a number of years. When it comes to absenteeism, dependability, and turnover, people with disabilities rate equally or better than the ‘average’ worker.
Employing individuals who consistently report low turnover rates would truly help companies given that it saves time and expenses of training multiple people for the same job position (Bedford, 2018). Large, successful companies such as Microsoft, CVS, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers search for people with disabilities because of their extreme loyalty to that company. Knowing that people with disabilities are often more reliable and loyal, employees with autism are in even higher demand for the fact that they are very detail-oriented. For example, Microsoft has hired 50 people with autism in the past 3 years, which make up for a portion of their software engineers (Davidson, 2018).
Additionally, no evidence shows a substantial difference in performance and productivity between people with disabilities and non-disabled people. Accommodations may cause higher costs, but evidence shows these costs are too insignificant in cost assessment to be considered when hiring a PWD (Lengnick‐Hall, Gaunt, & Kulkarni, 2008). There are clearly many benefits employers could gain from hiring people with disabilities; also, hiring individuals without prejudice would help improve people with disabilities self-concept and allow them to obtain jobs they could really use. However, despite the clear advantages of hiring people with disabilities, there are still opponents to this, citing several disadvantages.
In business, a firm’s most basic objective is to minimize costs and therefore, maximize profit. With that goal in mind, increased costs are an immediate counter-argument to hiring people with disabilities given possible liability costs, fees of accommodations, and additional training/educational program costs. It is thought that the higher costs associated with potential accommodations they may need will offset the benefit of their productivity (Lengnick‐Hall, Gaunt, & Kulkarni, 2008). These thoughts were debunked in a study published in the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation. In the study, companies cited as providing substantial opportunities for people with disabilities reported no increased human resource costs for disabled employees in comparison to their counterparts, except in training costs (Olson, et al., 2001).
So while there are indeed higher costs from the accommodations and training, they are variable costs. Therefore, the increased cost of training that people with disabilities may incur for the company is ultimately minor in the overall operation of the business. It is essential to train employees; it is a cost that cannot be foregone no matter the employee. Once the training is complete, like any other employee, people with disabilities can help increase production and complete tasks efficiently and effectively. More employers should hopefully see that the investment of training will be paid off through the proven hard work and dedication that these individuals consistently show.
To move forward and help assist disabled workers enter or re-enter the labor force, certain actions should be implemented. Organizations can begin by actively presenting the benefits of hiring people with disabilities to employers and encouraging more personal contact with disabled persons; remove the stereotypes and create human interactions. This will allow people with disabilities to gain more exposure to employers. It will also give employers a more sufficient understanding of people’s capabilities.
Employers need to see people with disabilities as capable, willing workers instead of all of their blind concerns and ignorant stereotypes. Additionally, by providing training and creating opportunities to help bring forth their abilities and strengths, employers can ensure all employees are able to meet specific job requirements (Lengnick‐Hall, Gaunt, & Kulkarni, 2008). It is important for employers to focus on what these individuals can perform, not what their disability holds them back from. For example, Companies, like Ernst & Young, have designed and implemented programs to reach out to workers with disabilities. Ernst & Young, in particular, has a network and inclusiveness program showing a positive shift in the workforce (Picchi, 2017).
Lastly, the federal government can help the cause by providing tax cuts and benefits for companies that make a point to hire people with disabilities (Lengnick‐Hall, Gaunt, & Kulkarni, 2008). Once employers and hiring managers see the statistics that prove people with disabilities can truly be assets to a company compounded with all these benefits, such as tax cuts, hopefully, they will be more open-minded to hiring them. We believe the benefits of hiring people with disabilities far surpasses the drawbacks. Providing additional training and education as well as other incentives can only benefit the company hiring the PWD.
There are many programs advocating for PWDs rights; they showcase that they are not ‘disabled’ but perfectly capable and ‘able’. Their goal is to assist persons with disabilities to reach their employment goal. According to these advocates, employers’ recognition of people with disabilities as hirable is long overdue; current hiring trends certainly need an overhaul and employers can continue to diversify their work environment by adding people with disabilities to their workforce. By removing the prejudice and welcoming more disabled individuals to the workforce, PWDs will gain opportunities they otherwise do not have. People with disabilities are capable and willing to work, so they should be allowed to. Yes, some additional costs from the training and educational programs that are potentially necessary may arise, but as previously mentioned, these individuals are hard workers who truly dedicate themselves to the operation. They want to work; they can work. They should work.
- Bedford, K. (2018, January 06). In tight labor market, employers seek out overlooked workers – The Boston Globe. Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2018/01/06/tight-labor-market-employers-seek-out-overlooked-workers/yoo8LzrL9Bi4AaKMvlvL4K/story.html
- Davidson, P. (2018, March 05). Willing and able: Disabled workers prove their value in tight labor market. Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2018/03/05/willing-and-able-disabled-workers-prove-their-value-tight-labor-market/375774002/
- Lengnick‐Hall, M. L., Gaunt, P. M., & Kulkarni, M. (2008, May 15). Overlooked and underutilized: People with disabilities are an untapped human resource. Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/hrm.20211
- Picchi, A. (2017, July 26). Americans with disabilities still can’t land jobs. Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/americans-with-disabilities-still-cant-land-jobs/
- US Department of Labor. (n.d.). Employment Laws: Medical and Disability-Related Leave. Retrieved from https://www.dol.gov/odep/pubs/fact/employ.htm
- US Department of Labor. (n.d.). Bureau of Labor Statistics Data. Retrieved from https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000