When your company is looking for new sources of employee talent, you could strike gold in a population that is chronically overlooked and underemployed. People with disabilities – a large and diverse characterization, to be sure – face a substantial gap in employment, according to the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). A December 2013 AAPD report found a nearly 30 percent employment gap between people with disabilities and those who are not disabled among people who are able to participate in the workforce. And an August 2013 editorial in The Christian Science Monitor cited two sources that found workers with disabilities to be dedicated, loyal employees.
Tapping this potentially large talent requires finding job candidates and make your workplace welcoming and accommodating, says Steve Hanamura, founder of Hanamura Consulting, a Beaverton, Ore., leadership and inclusion consulting firm. He says many businesses make missteps when it comes to attracting and retaining people with disabilities. Four key steps can help you avoid them.
Start with your business. What is the nature of your business and how can you accommodate employees. Hanamura, who is blind, says technology has opened many doors for people with disabilities. What are the types of jobs you need done and what options are available for you to make accommodations for people who are physically disabled? As you make a plan, consult your attorney to ensure you’re in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Find resources. A number of organizations can help you understand how to create a workplace that’s welcoming to people with disabilities. SourceAmerica, based in Washington, D.C., is a nonprofit that partners with businesses to create employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN) provides free resources to help businesses hire and retain people with disabilities and its Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities is a free, nationwide database of pre-screened, qualified college students and recent graduates with disabilities who are available for permanent and temporary positions. The United States Business Leadership Network also offers many resources for employers who wish to hire people with disabilities. Hire Heroes works to find placement for military veterans, including those with disabilities.
Understand the challenges. Hanamura says employers often don’t understand that there are both “visible” and “invisible” disabilities. Employers may be more comfortable accommodating those that are easy to see, such as a physical disability. However, invisible disabilities such as attention deficit disorder need accommodation, as well. That may require new ways of managing people.
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“You may need to make accommodations to your physical workspace to accommodate someone in a wheelchair, while you may need to give very specific direction and instructions to someone with ADD,” he says. You may also wish to review your workplace policies. For example, someone with a significant physical disability may benefit from flextime to give him or her more time to get to work on the morning or commute after rush hour.
Get comfortable. Blunders like speaking loudly to someone who is blind or leaning on someone’s wheelchair happen because some don’t know how to act around people with disabilities, Hanamura says. If you’re serious about creating an inclusive workplace, speak to experts and tap resources at organizations that work to employ people with disabilities. Talk to your employees and, if you have the resources, invest in diversity training to make employees more familiar and comfortable with the challenges workers with disabilities face.