Have you given much thought to disability employment? If you haven’t, it’s not unusual. Few recruiters or hiring managers do!
Although many countries have some type of disability employment regulations in their labor law, there are usually loopholes and little enforcement. According to the World Economic Forum, only 4% of businesses are committed to offering equal opportunities to employees with disabilities in the workplace.
Did you know that there are about 1.3 billion people globally who live with some form of disability? That’s 17% of the world’s population, making people with disabilities the largest minority group. Up to 80% of disabilities are acquired between the working ages of 18 to 64, but only 50% of these people will get hired. Add to that the reality that they’re likely to be employed in menial jobs, underpaid, overlooked for promotion, and excluded from wage and other negotiations.
Some companies that hire disabled people are unethical
Apart from ignoring disability hiring quotas and legislation, some organizations use loopholes for enrichment at the expense of employees with disabilities.
Many governments offer incentives to employers who hire people with disabilities. The intention is that the employees will receive support and training to empower them to become independent, productive members of society. But that’s not always the case.
Businesses intentionally register community rehabilitation programs or establish sheltered workshops under the facade of wanting to improve lives. This qualifies them for federal and private contracts, tax breaks, and even funding opportunities through grants.
While they reap the benefits, the disabled workers get paid subminimum wages, are placed in menial (often unpleasant) jobs, and receive no additional training. They become stuck in a dead-end daily grind that they can’t escape.
Most disabled people are doomed to a life of poverty, living from hand to mouth unless they have support from family. They have little choice other than to accept work in community rehabilitation programs or sheltered workshops. In these environments, they’re very vulnerable with little protection or say in workplace safety of earnings. Also, they’re kept isolated from other employees and customers, reinforcing discrimination and biases.
Treating people who are probably just as capable as anyone else given opportunities and support, like second class citizens, confirms just how much hiring biases still exist in the workplace. Many disabled people are well educated, but companies focus on their disability rather than their capability.
Who hires people with disabilities?
Every business should! If you’ve found these shameful stats to be a bit of a wakeup call, good!
Your organization can join the international companies who’ve already realized the injustice of hiring biases and are reaping the benefits of what disabled employees bring. Leading disability employers know that bringing disabled team members on board isn’t an act of benevolence or proper compliance. It’s the right thing to do all around.
Companies that hire people with disabilities to grow their talent pool and increase team diversity, giving them a considerable advantage over their competitors. Disabled people bring a unique perspective to any team. They come with perseverance, innovation, endurance, and dedication. There’s a maturity about them that comes with acceptance, and they know how to improvise. Whatever their disability, they’ve gone through far more than the average person, and they’ve learned to adapt.
They’re also loyal because they’ve learned to embrace appreciation. A disabled employee knows what it’s like to go without what so many others take for granted.
But there are challenges to disability employment that must be considered upfront for your organization to reap the benefits of this untapped talent pool.
8 tips for disability employment
One of the most significant barriers to hiring employees with disabilities is ignorance on behalf of employers and people in general.
For years disabled persons have been shunned or kept out of sight. That eases discomfort for the non-disabled. If you can’t see them, you don’t have to face your uncomfortable feelings about their disability. The truth is that most disabled employees have accepted their condition, learned to live with it, and are regular people. That’s what they are, how they want to be seen, and how they want to be treated.
Most people focus on their own discomfort that’s fueled by conscious and unconscious biases. They then project that onto the disabled. Here are 8 tips to get around the challenges of perception and get employees with disabilities onto your teams.
1. Write it into your recruitment policy
Writing disability employment into your recruitment policy is essential to get buy-in from hiring managers, recruiters, and your workforce. If it isn’t written into your hiring philosophy, vision, processes, and standards, people will agree to it in principle but ignore it when it comes to hiring decisions.
2. Implement anti-discrimination training
People with disabilities fall into all categories of discrimination. Their race, sex, age, and population demographics are used in addition to their disability to justify not hiring them. Issues like mobility and even appearance are used as convenient excuses as well. Once you’ve compiled your recruitment policy, you must do anti-discrimination training, with a focus on disability, mandatory for all staff. Also, make sure that it’s ongoing.
3. Conduct a workplace safety audit
Have a thorough safety audit done on all work areas within your organization. Depending on their disability, people will need specific considerations. Identify areas that are disability-friendly and make structural changes to areas that aren’t. For example, put in a ramp to replace stairs. Look at the spacing between workstations; can it comfortably accommodate a wheelchair or someone on crutches?
4. Budget for new furniture, hardware, and software
It’s much easier to accommodate a disabled employee than what most people think. A bigger computer screen and voice to text software is required to hire a partially sighted person. Deaf employees need nothing more than a standard workstation, and they can communicate internally and externally via chat and email. An employee who uses a wheelchair might require a desk that can be set higher or lower and a bit more space around them. There’s nothing particularly costly about accommodating workers with disabilities; it’s often just common sense that’s required.
5. Include people with disabilities in internships
Set an annual quota for interns with disabilities. Whether you run annual or ongoing internship programs, make it mandatory that people with disabilities must be included. In some countries, you can’t stipulate that you’re looking to hire disabled candidates, but you can in others. If you aren’t transgressing labor legislation, invite disabled applicants in particular to apply.
6. Use blind hiring techniques
A blind hiring program helps eliminate hiring biases and is particularly relevant to disability recruitment. If a disabled applicant makes it on to the shortlist, they’re there on merit. An applicant tracking system makes blind hiring easier because there are inbuilt systems to eliminate discrimination. Depending on the disability, the recruiter who’s facilitating the interview process doesn’t need to reveal to the hiring team that the candidate is disabled. This can be quite straight forward if interviews are done via video. When it comes to making a hiring decision, the disability can be discussed. Collaborative hiring will strengthen fair and transparent decisions.
7. Equal pay and benefits
It’s the responsibility of HR executives to ensure that hiring managers don’t adjust figures downwards if an offer is made to a disabled candidate. HR executives have access to all staff information as well as market-related pay packages for all positions. Disability wages shouldn’t be a thing. Write it into your recruitment policy that all offers to disabled candidates must be signed off by an HR exec to ensure transparency.
8. Prepare the team upfront
Once a disabled candidate has been hired, the team they’ll be working with must be told of their disability. This isn’t discrimination. It’s preparation. Staff must be prepped on common-sense etiquette. Welcome your new colleague as you would anyone else, just be mindful of their disability. They don’t want sympathy, they don’t need to be treated differently, and they don’t need extra help. If they need help, they’ll ask just as anyone else will.
Disability employment should be part of your diversity strategy
There are millions of highly intelligent people with huge potential who are unemployed because they have a disability. Many are well educated and are dying to get an opportunity to convert their knowledge into functional skills. Remember, a physical disability has no impact on someone’s mental ability.
With a little effort and a few modifications, companies can hire disabled adults and improve their workforce diversity. When organizations write a diversity recruiting strategy, they often omit policies on disabled workers. That’s wrong for many reasons:
- It’s discrimination
- It reinforces hiring biases
- Lost opportunities for business
- Endurance and innovation build effective teams
- Effective teams put companies at the forefront
- Companies at the forefront become employers of choice
Finally, for those who still harbor doubts or have biases, consider Stephen Hawking. At 21, he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease – a progressive condition that damages the nervous system. Imagine how much poorer the world would be if he was quietly relegated to a back office, out of sight, to do some mundane, menial paperwork.