We are in a critical moment in the history of diversity—and this moment is especially prevalent in our workplaces. The workplace of tomorrow is taking shape, and one group we need to make sure comes out of the shadows is individuals with disabilities.
October was Disability Employment Awareness Month (DEAM), a time when our nation celebrates the many contributions that Americans with disabilities have made to the workforce. But every month should be disability recruitment and employment month, so let’s keep the momentum going. Fully understanding how to accommodate and recruit skilled employees from this group—and taking action—brings us a lot closer to recruiting goals and to a skilled and diverse workforce.
Don’t Fear the Cost
Many employers worry about the financial burden of hiring people with disabilities, but their anxieties don’t square with the facts. Often, these individuals simply need a basic accommodation in order to perform at their most productive. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), these accommodations must be “reasonable”; in other words, they must not cause “undue hardship” to the organization, financial or otherwise. Employers have often found that these accommodations are very affordable—sometimes even free.
Businesses with fewer than 30 employees or that fall within a certain revenue bracket can also receive a tax credit of up to $5,000 per year, which can further alleviate some of the costs. Accommodations like adjustable desks, color-coded keyboards, screen reader software, sign language apps, and appropriately sized and placed monitor screens and cable management systems are some examples that are very useful for people with disabilities.
Don’t Let Incorrect Assumptions Dissuade You
Another concern employers often have is that this population is too limited in their ability to do the available jobs. This is often because there is a lack of knowledge about tools, techniques, and training available to and used by those with disabilities. For example, people without sight or with limited sight can do almost any job if they are given the tools and/or a modified environment and can excel in careers from law to food service to finance to education to computer programming and more.
Unfortunately, people with disabilities are often not hired because of incorrect assumptions and stereotypes about their abilities and the time and costs involved in bringing them onto the team. This is a loss for not only the individual but also the employer. People with disabilities tend to work hard and are reliable, staying with their jobs for a long time. Even if they cannot do their former jobs, they often have transferable skills and possess the intellectual capital any employer would value within its organization.
For people with disabilities, staying at work or returning to work isn’t only about the money, although maintaining a state of financial independence is often hugely important as well. What a person does for a living is part of who he or she is. People tend to find their sense of self in their careers, and their career success (or lack thereof) can affect their self-esteem in major ways. A successful job can be the gateway to a strong community, new friendships, and opportunities to acquire additional, valued skills.
Employment Networks Offer Great Resources for Employers and Employees
Allsup Employment Services, an Employment Network (EN) that helps those on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits return to work, can attest to this. SSDI beneficiaries often have a 20+-year work history when they finally acquire their disability benefits, and more than half of SSDI applicants say they’d like to go back to work if their condition improves.
Why does this matter for employers? If these are your former employees, you probably invested a lot of time, resources, and benefits with them—why waste them? So many great employees are being lost. Your best assets are walking out the door after experiencing a medical setback, and the door is being closed behind them.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Do you coach and communicate with these employees as they try to manage work and their disability and even after they leave employment with your company? Do you create intentional channels with new potential employees who happen to have a disability and learn how they can become assets to your organization with a simple, affordable accommodation?
Sadly, some Allsup clients say they would have liked to return to their former employer once their condition stabilized but report that neither they nor their employer worked to establish a contingency plan for returning to work. Fortunately, Allsup has helped some succeed at returning to work with a former employer, managing the complex public and private benefit issues for them.
There’s a little-known benefit available for those who obtain SSDI that brings advantages to recruiters as well. It’s called the Ticket to Work (TTW) program. TTW is a benefit for the 8.6 million SSDI beneficiaries across the United States, but only 30% of them know it exists. Most don’t know about other work incentive programs that also can help them return to work.
TTW is administered by the Social Security Administration and the agency’s approved ENs. ENs work directly with beneficiaries, educating them about TTW, creating an Individual Work Plan, and assisting them in locating jobs and with getting back to work. The program offers a trial work period, protects existing disability and Medicare benefits, freezes medical review requirements, ensures fast reinstatement of benefits if the worker cannot stay at work, and can even help with work expenses. The best part: It’s free.
Increase Your Talent Pool Today
What does this mean for employers? It means access to a small, but potentially ready, pool of workers who could come to you with a good work history and up to 7 years of health insurance coverage in hand. This includes an expert EN to help them transition back to work and coordinate their disability benefits in the process. They can also assist you in being part of this transition.
Hiring people with disabilities is a win for everyone involved and brings value to teams in all industries. However, if you want to reap the advantages of having differently abled individuals on your team, it’s important to create a workplace that works for—and welcomes—everyone. By doing so, you’ll contribute to an all-inclusive company culture, offer support and encouragement to employees of all skills and backgrounds, and improve productivity in the workplace.
|Mary Dale Walters is the senior vice president of Strategic Communications at Allsup. She focuses on the company’s efforts to ensure advocacy and access to a continuing quality of life for tens of thousands of customers across the country.|