The benefits of hiring individuals with disabilities

Diversity is an important part of running a successful business as well as to the culture of the workplace. If every employee were good at only one aspect of the business, the company would fail.One way that companies can improve the diversity of their workforce is by hiring individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities.Companies that employ individuals with disabilities often find that these workers not only help broaden the skill set and increase the productivity of their workforce, but also enhance the workplace culture.Welcoming individuals with disabilities into the workforce is sometimes a difficult step for companies, but the benefits of diversity make the transition to a more diverse and accepting workplace well worth it in the long run.According to the U.S. Census, people with disabilities are the largest minority group, making up about 20 percent of the population. Therefore, companies that are not tapping this resource are significantly limiting their pool of qualified applicants.When a company does decide to welcome individuals with disabilities onto their workforce, it is important to make the new employee and existing staff aware and comfortable with the change.Providing resources, education and open forum discussions can help eliminate misinformation and previous prejudices.Companies that hire workers with disabilities also show customers, vendors and partners a higher level of social responsibility and adaptability. This will attract like-minded partner companies and consumers, and could ultimately lead to organic business
growth.The correct placement of these individuals is equally important to the success of the employee and the business as a whole. When looking to hire an individual with a disability, it is important to look closely at the skills they DO have, rather than the ones they do not, and place them accordingly within the company.Workplace benefitsThere are countless benefits to hiring individuals with disabilities.For example, individuals with disabilities have a retention rate of 85 percent – one of the highest, according to national labor statistics.Companies often see productivity, performance and safety records improve when these workers are brought on board. Absenteeism, employee turnover, and apathy typically decrease as well, leading to overall improvement in the company’s work environment. Additionally, individuals with disabilities are usually among the most enthusiastic and appreciative employees, and will raise the morale of their peers. According to an article in Diversity Clues, case studies show that workers with disabilities are self-motivated and have new and innovative ways of solving problems.Common mistruthsThere are many misconceptions surrounding the employment of individuals with disabilities. One common assumption is that the cost of hiring an individual with a disability is too substantial to justify the benefits. This is simply not the case.According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, “The majority of workers with disabilities do not need accommodations to perform their jobs, and for those who do, the cost is usually minimal. … [T]wo-thirds of accommodations cost less than $500, with many costing nothing at all. Moreover, tax incentives are available to help employers cover the costs of accommodations, as well as modifications required to make their businesses accessible to persons with disabilities.”Another misconception among employers is that the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 forces them to hire individuals with disabilities who are not qualified for the position or prevents these workers from being fired under any circumstances.In actuality, “[disabled] applicants who are unqualified for a job cannot claim discrimination under the ADA.”The law also stipulates a number of conditions when workers with disabilities can be fired, such as when the termination is unrelated to the disability.Diversity in business is both an asset and a challenge. Businesses that accept the social and professional responsibility of hiring workers with disabilities can ultimately achieve greater purpose and productivity over time.By seeking out advice on how to build stronger communities and business networks through socially responsible actions, companies can establish sustainability and longevity for many years to come.Roy Gerstenberger, author of “The Benefits and Importance of Hiring Individuals with Disabilities at Your Business,” is the executive director of Concord-based Community Bridges. He can be reached at 603-225-4153