The advantages of hiring employees with disabilities

ADAOctober is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. In recognition of the month, Summit Disability Law Group is publishing articles on how to find employment despite a disability as well as stories celebrating successful employment.

The responsibility of lowering unemployment among those with differing abilities lies not just with job seekers but employers. Many myths surrounding disabilities prevent employers from reaching out to these applicants or hiring them; but the bottom line is that workers with a disability are good for companies. People find this out as they educate themselves about common myths.

Common Myths

Myth: People with disabilities are less valuable employees with fewer skills.

Fact: People with disabilities are valuable, talented, skilled employees. In fact, more than 600,000 engineers and scientists working in the U.S. have a disability yet make great contributions. And some of the most innovative leaders in the country are disabled, including the past and present chief executive officers of big-name companies like the Ford Motor Company, Xerox, Apple, and Turner Television. (Read more at the National Governor’s Association’s publication “Better Bottom Line.”)

“Each day, individuals living with disabilities contribute immeasurably to every aspect of our country’s national life and economy, science to business, education to technology.” – President Barack Obama, on the 20th anniversary of the ADA signing

Myth: It’s expensive to accommodate people with disabilities.

Fact: “‘[W]orkplace accommodations not only are low cost, but also positively impact the workplace in many ways.’ … [M]ore than half of requested workplace accommodation cost absolutely nothing for the companies to implement.” For example: “scheduling flexibility, allowances in dress code rules or allowing somebody to sit (or stand) when other positioning is customary.” (Read more in this Forbes magazine article, quoting from the U.S. Department of Labor report, “Workplace Accommodations.”)

The author of the Forbes article, Judy Owen of Opportunity Works, goes on to point out that “providing accommodations resulted in such benefits as retaining valuable employees, improving productivity and morale, reducing workers’ compensation and training costs, and improving company diversity. The report also found that other accommodations had an average cost of $500. How much is that cost compared to the cost of employee turnover? It is clearly much less expensive to provide the accommodation than to have an employee leave.”

ADA, low vision disabilityMyth: A disability is a disadvantage.

Fact: People with disabilities contribute in unique ways, sometimes specifically associated with their disability. For example, many employees with autism offer the advantages of greater attention to detail, intense focus, careful execution, an incredible memory, an analytical mind, and a willingness to do tedious tasks. Many people with bipolar disorder are highly gifted in creative problem-solving, artistic endeavors, sensitive perceptions, lucid thinking, and compassionate behavior. In general, the organization, energy, and endurance that overcoming or managing a disability requires of people can allow them to develop a positive, go-getter attitude.

Other traits as advantages

Additionally, workers with a disability are more loyal and more efficient. Preliminary studies of a few Walgreens distribution centers, which operate on the goal to fill 20% of their positions with workers with a disability, show that “disabled workers are more efficient and loyal than nondisabled workers. Absenteeism has gone down, turnover is less, and safety statistics are up,” reports the Christian Science Monitor.

The effect visible and invisible disabilities have on a workplace and other employees is desirable; the diversification of work settings leads to an overall positive work environment, according to the same Forbes article cited above.

Inclusion and diversity of abilities in the workplace is about more than statistics and government programs; the purpose of increasing social participation of people with a disability is for individuals and communities to expand their cultural paradigms to include your neighbor’s son with Down Syndrome, your sister-in-law with a mental illness, your teacher’s husband with a debilitating injury

“The public doesn’t really have an appreciation for what it means to be disabled,” says Dr. Suzanne Smeltzer, professor of nursing at Villanova University. “People need to be more aware of the gigantic contributions these people are making to society, that they are not a drain on the system–they are raising families and taking care of children and parents while holding very responsible positions … That is still not a view that many in society have.”

The theme for 2014 Disability Employment Awareness month is “Expect. Employ. Empower.” Expectations for workers with a disability as well as for employers are rising; employment is slowly increasing; and empowerment seems to be the word coming to define our time. What will you do to be a part of it?

Photo courtesy of (from top to bottom) Maryland GovPics, Maryland GovPics,