When it's Time to Hire, Don't Ignore the Disabled

In the workplace the concept of diversity is usually defined by race, color, religion, sex or national origin, with disability sometimes overlooked as a component of a diverse workforce.

While disabled people make up 20.1% of the labor force, according to the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is almost twice as high as that for people without, at 15.2% versus 8.1%, respectively. Experts argue one reason the disabled have a higher unemployment rate is a misguided preconceived belief of obstacles associated with hiring disabled people.

“They are the blind, deaf, and people with psychological disabilities, but they are also biologists, accountants, and engineers,” said Joyce Bender, founder of Bender Consulting Services, a firm that recruits and hires people with disabilities. “It’s just people can’t get that through their minds.”

For entrepreneurs willing to open their doors to disabled employees, some private companies and government entities are working to make the process easier.

Health & Disability Advocates, a national nonprofit, launched a campaign titled ‘Think Beyond the Label’, which includes online resources available to help employers determine the benefits of hiring a disabled person. Through its free ‘Hire Gauge’ online tool, an entrepreneur answers a series of questions, such as the business owner’s industry, location, company size and employee’s expected salary, to see what hiring benefits are available on a federal and state level.

The Hire Gauge determines if a business is eligible for the Federal Work Opportunities Tax Credit, the Disabled Access Credit, the Architectural Barrier Removal Tax Deduction, and any recoupment of recruitment and training costs, if a business owner hires through a vocational rehabilitation program.

Barbara Otto, principle founder of Think Beyond the Label, recommended that business owners start the process of recruitment by “indicating that they are a disability-friendly workplace.”

This can be done by posting and recruiting from job portals, such as GettingHired.com and DisaboomJobs.com. Business owners can also reach out to their state’s vocational rehabilitation agency, disability departments at local colleges and universities, the Department of Labor’s workforce recruitment program, foundations that work with disabled people or recruitment firms.

When it comes to hiring, Bender advised that employers treat people with disabilities as equals. “Hire them just as you would hire anyone else,” she said. “If you start with pity, then you put them at a disadvantage.”

Depending on the individual’s disability, an employer may have to make accommodations at the workplace. This can include adding lifting devices to the employee’s workspace, raising a desk so it is level for someone who uses a wheelchair, adding cordless headsets to telephones, putting a grab bar in a restroom or installing assistance technology software.

The Job Accommodation Network is a service offered by the Department of Labor. They give free guidance on workplace accommodations, such as prices for the equipment and places where it can be purchased.

“We have a conversation about what the limitations are, what job functions the individual needs to perform and what modifications the employer needs to do,” said Dr. Beth Loy, principal consultant at JAN.

Loy recommended small business owners invite the new hire to be a part of the conversation, to be sure you don’t lose sight of them and what they will bring to your company.

“Sometimes companies focus so much on the disability that they forget why they hired a person,” warned Bender.