JUST IMAGINE WHAT COULD HAPPEN IF MORE EMPLOYERS WERE EDUCATED ABOUT THE CAPABILITIES OF INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES AND THE MANY ADVANTAGES COMPANIES COULD REALIZE BY GIVING THIS GROUP THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANT TO DO: RETURN TO WORK.
BY DIANE WINIARSKI
Individuals with disabilities are frequently subject to discrimination during the hiring process, often because employer misconceptions throw up roadblocks to employment. Smaller businesses can be particularly challenging for applicants, because those organizations may not have much experience employing individuals with disabilities and may not understand how reasonably their specific needs can be accommodated. Unfortunately, even many large employers hold onto some myths about hiring individuals with disabilities -- all of which disappear under closer inspection.
MYTH #1 INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES ARE LESS PRODUCTIVE.
Some employers shy away from hiring individuals with disabilities under the incorrect impression that their disability will prompt them to take more sick days or cause them to not work efficiently.
However, individuals with disabilities are the same as any other hardworking employee. They are highly engaged and eager to use their skills to benefit their team and their employer. They are motivated and determined individuals who frequently overcome challenges just to be at work each day. Individuals with disabilities want to be able to support their families and have financial stability. We work with thousands of SSDI beneficiaries each year, and 52% of them say they want to go back to work if and when their condition improves.
At the end of the day, the employers who give individuals with disabilities the opportunity to once again work will receive numerous benefits from this untapped talent pool. For example, a 2018 study by Accenture, in partnership with the American Association of People with Disabilities, found that companies who hired people with disabilities had better business outcomes than their peers who did not have disability-inclusive work environments. These companies saw 72% more productivity, 45% better workplace safety, 30% higher profit margins, and 200% higher net income. The numbers don't lie.
MYTH #2 INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES AREN'T QUALIFIED.
It may surprise some business owners to know that the average SSDI beneficiary has more than 20 years of work experience and skills.
This is great news for any employer, but especially the person's former employer. Many SSDI beneficiaries are interested in returning to their previous company and position, if possible, and their former employer would be wise to rehire them. Recruiting someone who is already familiar with the type of work, has completed training, and has prior experience and industry knowledge can save companies a lot of time and money. Training Magazine found that the average cost of training a new employee in 2017 was $1,886. But other studies suggest the cost could be higher: SHRM found it took companies an average of 42 days and $4,129 to hire a single new employee. In truth, many companies are missing out on a sizable job pool. There are thousands of people with disabilities who are qualified for jobs in today's economy, thousands of individuals with disabilities who are ready to be hired. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 6.9% — twice as high as the national unemployment rate (3.2%) — and by overlooking these candidates, recruiters and employers are passing up on a huge portion of the labor market.
The real problem here isn't a lack of qualifications. It's that MYTH #3 many employers and potential employees don't know where to find the next job opportunity or the right candidate. Fortunately, Employment Networks (EN) can simplify the search. ENs like Allsup Employment Services (AES) are a part of the Social Security Administration's Ticket to Work (TTW) Program, and assist anyone who is receiving SSDI benefits to put together their plan and return to work. The TTW program helps beneficiaries find new or related careers after they medically recover, and also protects their disability benefits while they seek employment. This allows individuals to test whether they are truly ready to return to work without having to sacrifice their SSDI and Medicare benefits. For their part, ENs work one-on-one to create an Individual Work Plan (IWP) that goes over the person's skills, abilities, limitations, employment history, interests, and goals so that ENs can match them with the right opportunities.
Sadly, only 30% of SSDI beneficiaries know about the TTW program. Very few employers know about it too, and they are unaware that they can use ENs to find the right talent, right now because of those IWPs.
Many employers also are unaware that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require employers to hire someone with a disability if they are not qualified for the position. The ADA protects against the discrimination of individuals with disabilities who are qualified for a job. Employers are free to hire whomever they wish as long as they don't make their decision based on disability.
It's equally important for people to know that under the ADA, a potential employer cannot legally ask someone if they have a disability before making a job offer. If individuals are afraid of inherent bias, they should know that they are not legally required to disclose that they have a disability if asked in an interview. If a potential employer were to ask such an inappropriate question, an applicant could divert that question by asking, "Is that legal to ask in a job interview?"
Once an employer provides a conditional offer, the game changes and the employer can ask you more personal questions about your health, disability, limitations and capabilities, or even require that you have a medical examination. All of these requests are legally compliant, so long as the employer treats all candidates the same.
So long as employers play by these rules, there shouldn't be any problems. Ideally, employers are striving to be inclusive and give everyone a fair chance during the hiring process, as that is the best way to welcome these qualified, readily available employees.
MYTH #3 HIRING AN INDIVIDUAL WITH A DISABILITY WILL ADD EXTRA WORKFORCE COSTS.
Opening your doors to people with disabilities does not have to be costly. Employers are only obligated to provide reasonable accommodations to employees, and "reasonable" qualifies as any change or resource that doesn't force "undue hardship" on the organization.
Most reasonable accommodations are fairly simple, such as standing desks, or Braille signage and ramps. Allowing for modified schedules, service animals, and remote work also count as reasonable accommodations.
Making these simple and low-cost accommodations are shown to be effective in allowing employees to perform their jobs, especially when the employer and employee have a discussion about what accommodations would help them the most. JAN also found that providing these reasonable accommodations is an investment with high returns. They discovered that companies who invested in their employees and provided them with the necessary tools to work were able to increase retention — cutting out the added costs of hiring new workers — and increase productivity. The companies also exhibited better relationships with their employees, saw greater company morale, increased attendance rates, and improved safety. Clearly, employers have a lot to gain from hiring individuals with disabilities, especially since we have debunked the myths that may be holding them back. Just imagine what could happen if more employers were educated about the capabilities of individuals with disabilities and the many advantages companies could realize by giving this group the opportunity to do exactly what they want to do: return to work. We could create a more diverse and inclusive work environment, and unlock progress that drives positive change throughout the entire U.S. economy. •
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Diane Winiarski is the Director, Vocational Rehabilitation at Allsup Employment Services, a Social Security-authorized Employment Network created by Allsup, a provider of disability benefits representation.