Senior Director of Strategic Advocacy and Advisor to the Chief Policy Officer
August 25, 2022
Amid the ongoing workforce shortage, businesses are finding it more challenging than ever to hire talented workers. One source of talent employers should consider is people with disabilities. By recruiting, hiring, and retaining these individuals, businesses can give themselves a competitive edge and demonstrate their commitment to inclusion. The key is to focus on what a person can do rather than their limitations.
People with disabilities comprise the largest minority group across the globe. As of 2018, only 29% of Americans of working age with disabilities participated in the workforce, meaning there is a potential untapped talent pool. Not only that, studies show that companies leading in hiring persons with disabilities were, on average, twice as likely to have higher total shareholder returns than those of their peer group. Other research shows that GDP could increase by $25 billion if just 1% more persons with disabilities joined the U.S. labor force. And employees with disabilities are often more loyal meaning less turnover.
Successfully integrating these individuals brings many advantages. Here are six things employers should consider when hiring those with disabilities.
1. Know the laws
First and foremost, it’s important to note the role of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) when considering hiring persons with disabilities.
The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications, and access to state and local government programs and services. Title I of the ADA covers employment and protects the rights of both employees and job seekers.
The ADA also defines what constitutes a disability. A disability is a physical or mental impairment substantially limiting one or more major life activities. Individuals with disabilities often need workplace accommodations—a modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or how things are usually done during the hiring process.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee. Most employers with at least 15 employees are covered by EEOC laws including the ADA. The laws apply to all types of work situations, including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits.
2. Consider working with partner organizations to recruit talent
To help identify pools of potential talent, best practices include working with recruiters and national or local organizations.
- The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) is a free, nationwide service that educates employers about effective strategies for recruiting, hiring, retaining and advancing people with disabilities.
- The Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities (WRP) is a free resource that connects private businesses and federal agencies nationwide with qualified job candidates for temporary or permanent positions in various fields.
- Find local or national non-profits or charitable organizations like Easterseals that support the development and advancement of people who are living with different types of disabilities, including expanding access to employment opportunities.
- Partnerships with colleges and universities’ recruiting offices are critical if you are searching for candidates with college degrees and specialized education and training.
- Many community rehabilitation providers (CRPs) can also help with your hiring needs. Some serve targeted local areas, while others have state or national programs. Best Buddies International, for example, offers services in 17 states. These types of organizations can connect your company to local programs, help tailor recruitment efforts, and enhance education and knowledge on disability hiring practices.
3. Review job descriptions carefully
Employers should review job descriptions carefully to make sure they don’t include unnecessary restrictions that would prevent someone with a disability from applying or being hired. For instance, with the widespread availability of video technology, having the ability to travel into the office may not be the requirement it once was.
When interviewing candidates with disabilities, employers must follow certain guidelines. For example, there are specific questions you may not ask job applicants regarding their disabilities or medical conditions, and specific points in the hiring process when you may ask certain questions. Crucially, the ADA does not require an employer to hire an applicant with a disability. The applicant must be able to satisfy the requisite skill, experience, education and other job-related requirements of the position, with or without reasonable accommodation, and perform the essential functions of such a position.
4. Consider what workplace accommodations may be needed
Persons with disabilities often require accommodation or support mechanisms beyond that of other employees.
One of the key non-discrimination aspects of Title I is the requirement to provide reasonable accommodations for employees and job seekers with disabilities. Accommodations make it possible for a person with a disability to perform their job, but an employer does not have to implement an accommodation that would create an “undue hardship” for the employer, such as costing too much or requiring too much difficulty to implement.
Examples of reasonable accommodations could include:
- Providing forms and written materials in accessible formats during the hiring process
- Flexible work schedule or remote work opportunities
- Specialized equipment or software
Business owners may be concerned about the costs of accommodating persons with disabilities. However, studies show that often these are actually minimal and fruitful investments. 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.
Government incentives and programs are available to help fund accommodations for those with disabilities. For convenience, we put together a guide to help you understand these opportunities.
Guide to Tax Credits For Hiring Employees With Disabilities
Businesses that make structural adaptations or other workplace accommodations for employees with disabilities may be eligible for certain tax incentives.
5. Take advantage of government programs
Businesses that make structural adaptations or other accommodations for employees with disabilities may be eligible for certain tax incentives.
The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), for instance, is available to employers for hiring individuals from certain target groups who have consistently faced significant barriers to employment.
Title III of the ADA requires places of public accommodation, like restaurants and hotels, to remove barriers that can prevent access by persons with disabilities.
- The Disabled Access Credit provides a non-refundable credit of up to $5,000 for small businesses that incur expenditures for the purpose of providing access to persons with disabilities.
- The Architectural Barrier Removal Tax Deduction encourages businesses of any size to remove architectural and transportation barriers to the mobility of persons with disabilities and the elderly. Doing so may also be a benefit to employees with disabilities. Businesses may claim a deduction of up to $15,000 a year for qualified expenses for items that normally must be capitalized.
Several states also have their own tax credits for hiring people with disabilities, barrier removal, and employment supports, as well as financial incentives to support employers in establishing stay-at-work/return-to-work programs.
Learn more with this guide outlining the different federal available, eligibility, and requirements.
6. Support an inclusive culture
There may also be some adjustments you need to make to create an inclusive workspace for employees with disabilities. The most successful integration models treat them as undifferentiated from other employees, establish support systems, support language best practices, and prioritize access for all.
- Invest in universal designs for the workplace. Universal design, or inclusive design, is a process by which architects and designers create spaces and select features that are accessible, intuitive to use or access, have minimal room for error, and accommodate varying ages, body sizes, ranges of mobility, and other characteristics. Examples include height-adjustable desks, door handles that do not require a grip, and closed-captioned videos.
- Practice inclusive language. Inclusive language is a critical component of respecting your workforce’s diversity and fostering an inclusive environment. A good rule of thumb is to ask about language preferences and stick to those. The United Nations and the National Center on Disability and Journalism offer helpful language guidelines, and Disability:In offers a resourceful guide on Disability Etiquette.
- Establish support systems. Encouraging employees to form support systems, like Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), can facilitate the sharing of useful information about specific diversities inside the group and throughout the broader organization. The Harvard Business Review provides examples of ways companies are already expanding their talent pools to include the neurodiverse and building equitable workplaces.
Once you’ve started hiring employees with disabilities, it is important to provide training, mentoring, and resources to help with inclusivity and retention.
The great news is that the increasing visibility of these programs' success as models for finding and retaining talent has led many other businesses to consider expanding their recruiting efforts to those with disabilities.
About the authors
Jenna Shrove is a Senior Director of Strategic Advocacy and Advisor to the Chief Policy Officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.