Did you know October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month? This year the U.S. Department of Labor’s theme is “Expect. Employ. Empower.” For many of us in this industry, hiring people with disabilities seems like common sense, but to others a case needs to be made.
Why hire people with disabilities? Besides the altruistic, “just because” answer, hiring people with disabilities makes practical business sense. Not only do employers gain dedicated and passionate employees, they can often receive tax credits or breaks from the government, among other benefits.
In March 2014, 4.67 million people with disabilities were participating in the U.S. labor force, only accounting for 20.6 percent of the working population. The statistics in recent years have improved; however, only 16 percent of adults with a severe disability are employed, compared to the 63 percent employed without a disability.
How can we help? How can we change this number and help those waiting for a chance to work? The first step is to recognize that there are many benefits to hiring people with disabilities. Here are five considerations:
You’ll gain a dedicated and passionate employee. There is no denying that disabled workers are extremely dedicated and passionate. I work for a local nonprofit that helps disabled adults find jobs and I get to share their stories. Our clients truly love working and see employment as an exciting opportunity, not something “they have to do.”
You’ll increase morale and positivity in your business. Many employers who work with my organization mention how many other employees enjoy having diversity in the office. Hiring someone with a disability will not only increase morale, it will provide a new perspective your business may have never noticed before.
You can maintain employees in high-turnover positions. People with disabilities tend to stay in high-turnover positions longer than people without disabilities. According to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce study, workers with disabilities had an 80 percent lower turnover rate than those without. Increasing tenure within your business means less training, happy employees, satisfied customers and a long-term savings on administrative costs.
You’ll comply with legislation. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers cannot discriminate in hiring or employment. Any employer with 15 or more employees is required to provide reasonable accommodation for individuals with disabilities, unless doing so would cause undue hardship. A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment that enables a person with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.
Also, any business that employs over $100,000 in federal contractors has an “aspirational goal” set by the government: 7 percent of the work force within your business should be people with disabilities.
Tax benefits. Hiring people with disabilities can provide many tax benefits to the business, including: The Work Opportunity Tax Credit, Disabled Access Credit, Barrier Removal Tax Deduction and more. Businesses can receive sizable credits or returns depending on the accommodations made for an employee.
On top of all these benefits to the business, these new employees are truly happy to be employed. What is the first question you’re asked when you meet someone new? “What do you do for a living?” Sometimes that question is very difficult for people with disabilities. They are looking for a work identity, not a handout. They will contribute to your business culture in ways that you never imagined; you just have to open your eyes to the possibilities.
I urge you to share these benefits with a business that may be unfamiliar with them and make an effort to make your purchases at a business that provides equal opportunity for all. Your voice counts. Make it heard this month and every month to support employment for people with disabilities.
Hannah Weiss, a public-relations professional, lives in St. Louis Park. She manages PR for Opportunity Services, a nonprofit that helps disabled adults find jobs.
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