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Debra Ruh

  Employability & Technology


Employees with Disabilities Can Give You a Competitive Edge

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Employees with disabilities can assist businesses in gaining insight into a multi-billion dollar market segment. Companies are beginning to recognize the value of this multi billion dollar target market, as well as the extended families and support networks associated with this market.

By raising awareness that your company is a disability-friendly business, you will attract job candidates and new customers. A recent study from the University of Massachusetts Boston's Center for Social Development & Education (2006) reports, "overwhelmingly positive attitudes among consumers toward socially responsible companies, and in particular toward those that hire individuals with disabilities. Specifically, 92 percent of consumers surveyed felt more favorable toward companies that hire individuals with disabilities, and 87 percent said they would prefer to give their business to such companies. Among those surveyed, hiring people with disabilities ranked third behind offering health insurance to all employees and protecting the environment as an indicator of a company's commitment to social justice."

Disability Employment Research:

Disability employment research time and time again proves that:

  • There is no significant difference between the productivity of people with disabilities and people without disabilities, particularly in knowledge-related business.

Despite these facts, there are still a number of myths about disability employment. There are still misperceptions present.

Unfortunately, there studies continue to show that employers still mistakenly perceive people with disabilities as:

  • less productive than equally qualified individuals without disabilities
  • more costly than workers without disabilities. For examples, these misinformed employers believe employees with disabilities will need special accommodations and that they might be heavy users of health care benefits. Some even mistakenly believe that they might have a negative impact on customers.

Misinformed business still to this day cite the cost of accommodations as a reason not to hire a person with a disability. In reality though, the cost is usually very minimal.

Don´t just take our word for it, take the many facts uncovered by the recent Able Trust Employer Attitude Study which demonstrated that:

  • 73% of businesses reported that their employees with disabilities actually did not require any accommodations at all.
  • And, 61% said that the average costs of accommodation were $500 or less
  • While 29% even stated that accommodations were $100 or less

Simply put, many employers are just not aware of these facts. In fact, there is not only a lack of knowledge by employers over disability issues but also the disability resources available to businesses.

On average, studies show that two-thirds of employers are not highly aware of disability issues; half have no formal policy for hiring individuals with disabilities; only 25% feel they are recruiting well; and only 35% have disability training programs.

And topping it off, the majority of employers lack familiarity with agencies and programs related to individuals with disabilities (especially those that provide financial assistance).

In the afore mentioned cases, the common theme is simply a lack of awareness. In reality, study after study demonstrates that businesses that actually employ individuals with disabilities have a much different opinion. Those that have actually taken the steps to place people with disabilities into valuable roles in their workplace have very positive attitudes towards such employees.

The Able Trust Study of Employer Attitudes that we mentioned earlier actually demonstrates that businesses with formal disability policies and hiring practices tend to have more positive attitudes towards individuals with disabilities.

Adding to the business case for disability employment, a recent study in the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation found that nearly all the employers (97%) who had hired someone with a disability in the past indicated they would hire an individual with a disability again in the future.

Conversely, The Able Trust Study shows that businesses with no employees with disabilities and businesses with no formal disability policies tend to have more negative attitudes toward individuals with disabilities.

As you can see – there seems to be a common theme here. Those that hire people with disabilities would do it again. Those who have not made the efforts on the other hand have a negative impression simply because they are not aware of the many benefits and advantages of bolstering ones workforce with employees with disabilities.

As demonstrated, employers´ negative attitudes and fears have long been a barrier to the employment of individuals with disabilities. Accordingly, attitude literature and studies on the employment of people with disabilities has almost always focused exclusively on employers. However, due to their influence over business practices, the successful employment of people with disabilities is also contingent on the views of the consumer.

An impressive America´s Strength Foundation study by Neil Romano, performed in conjunction with the University of Massachusetts, recently released a national survey of consumer attitudes towards companies that hire people with disabilities which stated:

"The public, across all ages and education, views companies that hire people with disabilities as favorably as they do companies that provide healthcare to all workers and actively protect the environment."

"Companies are aware of the public´s concern over health and environmental issues. What they need to be more aware of is that hiring people with disabilities falls under the umbrella of corporate social responsibility and is an important building block in creating a reputable image."

The results of the America´s Strength survey prove that the:

  • The public views hiring a person with a disability as the socially responsible thing to do, and that….
  • Businesses that have actually hired employees with disabilities view hiring a person with a disability as a gainful business practice.
  • It is therefore important that companies not only hire people with disabilities, but also communicate this practice to the consumer.

The message is clear, and The America´s Strength survey said it best when they concluded their findings with the suggestion that companies strengthen their workforce with employees that are found to be reliable, committed and hardworking -- while also benefiting from consumer enthusiasm, appreciation and support for their company and its brand.