Including People with Disabilities Makes Business Sense

By Roy Maurer Jun 30, 2015
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LAS VEGAS—Officials from the Department of Labor are making the business case for employing people with disabilities by offering up several workplace practices for recruiting, hiring and retaining this underemployed portion of the workforce.

“Everybody is important, and we’re asking you to look beyond the normal recruitment sources you’re using and reach out to people with disabilities,” said Colet Mitchell, a policy advisor at the department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP).

Disability inclusion can open up the power of diversity to solve problems as well as provide great untapped talent that employers may be missing out on, Mitchell told attendees June 29, 2015, at the Society for Human Resource Management 2015 Annual Conference & Exposition.

And then there’s the matter of compliance for companies that contract with the federal government. Changes to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973—made effective in 2014—require these employers to take affirmative action steps to employ individuals with disabilities.

“By identifying, adopting and refining these effective and meaningful employment practices that welcome people with disabilities, you too can benefit from having a vibrant, diverse workforce,” Mitchell said.

The strategies include:

Gaining commitment from all levels of the organization. “Establishing an inclusive business culture begins with leadership at the highest levels, including top executives, their leadership teams and boards of directors. Midlevel managers and supervisors, and particularly human resources staff and other personnel involved in hiring decisions, must also understand the role they play in facilitating an inclusive environment,” Mitchell said. Communicating the company’s goal of an inclusive and diverse workplace to employees at all levels of the organization is also critical, she added. Mitchell also recommended establishing a disability-focused employee resource group.

Reviewing HR processes. It’s important for employers to review their HR processes, qualification standards and job descriptions to determine whether they facilitate or impede the hiring and advancement of qualified persons with disabilities, she said. Participating in internship, mentorship and hiring programs for students and recent graduates with disabilities is an important step. “Research shows that employers that offer internships to people with disabilities are 4.5 times more likely to hire a person with a disability,” said Shaun McGill, also a policy advisor at ODEP.

Offering reasonable accommodations. Some individuals with disabilities may need reasonable accommodations in order to perform the essential functions of a job. “Most accommodations cost employers nothing,” McGill said. It’s important for employers to consider the procedures and administrative mechanisms they use to ensure effective and efficient implementation of accommodations, he added.

Building a talent pipeline. Companies need to develop relationships with a variety of recruitment sources to find qualified applicants with disabilities, McGill said. These can either be formal partnerships wherein agreements are signed that formalize expectations, or informal interactions. “The investment will be well worth the effort. Your company will not only secure access to talent that it otherwise may have overlooked, but also benefit from other supports that can assist in effectively integrating job candidates with disabilities into your workforce,” he said. Recruitment sources include the Labor Department’s One-Stop Career Centers, state vocational rehabilitation agencies, state employment agencies, independent living centers and the Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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