The American workforce shortage continues to plague small business owners. To help relieve their hiring needs, small business owners can hire workers with disabilities. These workers make up one of the most underutilized talent pools of people in the United States and can help businesses meet their staffing needs while giving them a competitive advantage.

How is a disability legally defined?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) legally defines a person with a disability as someone “who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,” including breathing, walking, talking, hearing, seeing, sleeping, and performing manual tasks. Workers with disabilities may need special accommodations at their place of work to perform their job responsibilities.

“Individuals with disabilities often need workplace accommodations, which is a modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or how things are usually done during the hiring process,” said Jenna Shrove, Senior Director of Strategic Advocacy and Advisor to the Chief Policy Officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

[Read more: What Is the ADA, and How Does It Impact Small Business?]

Accommodations for workers with disabilities

Individuals with disabilities will often need reasonable workplace accommodations to perform their job. For instance, this might require physical changes to an office, such as additional ramps, accessible parking, or equipment changes.

Other accommodations include changes to the employee's job responsibilities or the internal processes of the business. Organizations can offer flexible, hybrid, or remote work schedules to make work more accessible to employees with disabilities. Business owners and managers can also alter how they distribute internal materials. For example, a supervisor can give written feedback to someone who doesn’t communicate as well verbally.

Accommodations are not just for workers with disabilities, but for all employees to work in harmony with each other. When a company hires a worker with a disability, employers should modify any internal work process that affects the individual and their team.

“Once you start hiring employees with disabilities, it is important to provide training, mentoring, and resources to help with inclusivity and retention,” Shrove said.

[Read more: What Small Businesses Should Know About Disability Insurance]

According to employers participating in a recent study, nearly 60% of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make while the rest typically cost only $500 per employee with a disability. There are government incentives and programs available to help find accommodations for those with disabilities.

Jenna Shrove, Senior Director of Strategic Advocacy and Advisor to the Chief Policy Officer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

What is the cost of hiring a worker with a disability?

The cost of providing specific accommodations to workers with disabilities may discourage some small business owners from hiring them. However, studies have proven investments in accommodations are typically minimal and offer broad advantages to a company.

“According to employers participating in a recent study, nearly 60% of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make while the rest typically cost only $500 per employee with a disability,” Shrove said. “There are government incentives and programs available to help find accommodations for those with disabilities.”

Employers are not required to implement accommodations if it would create an undue hardship for them, such as a significant financial burden.

Benefits of hiring workers with disabilities

Workers with disabilities represent a major untapped talent pool of more than 10 million people, as only 29% of working-age individuals with disabilities are employed. Adding them to the workforce could create a major economic boom.

“Research shows that GDP could increase by $25 billion if just 1% more persons with disabilities join the U.S. labor force,” Shrove said.

Not only does hiring this pool of talent help the national economy, but it also serves the businesses employing them.

“By hiring individuals with disabilities, businesses can expand their talent pool, meet their workforce needs, create a culture of diversity, foster creative business solutions, and generate goodwill among customers and the community,” Shrove said.

[Read more: Innovation Abounds as Businesses Aim to Better Serve Disability Community]

Best hiring practices

Follow these recommended practices when recruiting and hiring individuals with disabilities:

  • Review job descriptions carefully. Make sure they do not include unnecessary restrictions that might prevent someone with a disability from applying.
  • Ask appropriate questions. During the interview process, businesses may not ask candidates about their disability or any other medical conditions.
  • Work with local and national recruiters. Organizations like the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) help businesses find employees and educate them on recruiting, hiring, retaining, and advancing them. For more resources on hiring workers with disabilities, see below.

Resources:

For small businesses:

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Published August 24, 2022