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Attracting and Retaining Workers with Disabilities

​As companies face a lack of qualified workers in many fields, individuals with disabilities are being recognized as a source of engaged, committed employees. According to the 2019 Disability Statistics Annual Report from the Institute on Disability, nearly 1 in 8 people in the U.S. has a disability, and that number is rising annually.

"It's time we put our biases aside and put this untapped talent back to work," said Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, president and chief executive officer of SHRM at the SHRM 2019 Annual Conference & Exposition. 

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP

Ways to recruit workers with disabilities include:

  • Post open positions at job service and workforce employment centers.
  • Contact college and university career centers.
  • Partner with disability-related advocacy organizations.
  • Include people with disabilities in diversity recruitment goals.
  • Post open positions or host tables/booths at disability-related job fairs.
  • Establish summer internship and mentoring programs.
  • Post open positions at independent living centers.

Diversity Initiatives Pie Chart

According to sHRM research, only about 25% of organizations have explicit goals for recruiting and hiring people with disabilities. 

Resources to find qualified applicants with disabilities:

peopleThe Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN) is a resource for employers seeking to recruit, hire and retain qualified employees with disabilities.

handshakeState vocational rehabilitation agencies provide counseling, evaluation and job placement services for people with disabilities.

recruitingThe Workforce Recruitment Program connects federal and private-sector employers with college students and recent college graduates with disabilities.

toolA Resource Guide published by the federal cross-agency initiative, Curb Cuts to the Middle Class, provides employers with tools and resources they need to recruit, hire, retain and promote people with disabilities.

How to Make Your Workplace Accessible

Providing access to your workplace goes beyond making sure people who use canes or wheelchairs can navigate stairs or doorways. Inclusive design means that people with disabilities can also use websites and digital tools. 

more than 70% of approximately 4 million working-age adults with visual impairments are unemployed.

Source: the national federation of the blind.

Companies' career websites should be inviting to people of all abilities. In addition to people with  visual and hearing impairments, people with cognitive or learning disabilities can be challenged by complex navigation paths, captcha tests—used to determine whether the webpage user is human—and fast webpage timeouts.

Common problems with online job applications include:

  • Websites can't be navigated using screen readers that convert text to speech. Many people with vision impairments rely on screen readers to navigate websites.
  • Websites can't be navigated using a keyboard instead of a mouse. People who use screen readers, screen magnifiers and voice recognition use keyboard commands instead of a mouse to navigate a website.
  • Applications that rely on color are inaccessible to people who are colorblind.
  • Websites use images that don't have alternative text, making the images inaccessible to individuals with vision impairments who use screen readers to navigate websites.
  • Videos lack captions, making the videos inaccessible to people who have hearing impairments.
  • Timed assessments in the application process prevented people with cognitive disabilities or learning disabilities from completing applications.
  • No contact information listed for technical support or to request an accommodation, or no one responded to the contact information provided.

How to Reduce Disability Bias

Diversity Initiatives Pie Chart

more than 66% of workers with disabilities have experienced negative bias.

Source: the center for talent innovation, 2017 study.

Tips to reduce disability bias in an organization include:

  • Ensure that information about people with disabilities is included in bias training.
  • Review job descriptions for language and requirements that might exclude people with disabilities.
  • Check career websites to ensure they're accessible.
  • Adopt language in company policies and communications that encourages self-identification.
  • Establish disability-focused employee resource groups rather than groups only for people with disabilities. The former, broader group would include any interested employees, such as those whose children have disabilities. This will encourage people who have invisible disabilities to attend because they won't feel they are disclosing their disability.
  • Ask employees with disabilities to alert you to potential biases at all stages of the employment cycle.
  • Ensure all employees can participate in company events, and include pictures of employees with disabilities on your website.

What are some common myths about hiring people with disabilities that impede disability recruiting initiatives?


Additional resources

Employing Abilities @ Work
​A partnership between the SHRM Foundation, SHRM and the Workplace Initiative to help HR professionals and people managers better understand how to build inclusive culture that will hire, retain and advance employees with disabilities.
​SHRM's Disability Employment Resource Page 
​Offers news, articles and guides to help employers understand the latest trends and best practices relating to employment of people with disabilities.
​The Recruitment and Retention section of the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) website
​Comprehensive information for employers about recruiting and hiring qualified applicants with disabilities.
Job Accommodation Network (JAN)
​Dedicated to helping employers integrate or retain people with disabilities. It is a leading source of free, expert and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues.
Disability Employment Tabulation
Shows disability status and labor force diversity for 4,000 local U.S. areas and information on the skills and availability of people with disabilities, including details on occupation, education and earnings.
Diversity Partners
Provides free training resources to help connect employment service professionals and employers with job seekers who have disabilities.​
Entry Point!
​A program offered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to pair students with disabilities studying in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and business fields with employment internships. AAAS has partners that support the program by providing assistive technologies and other reasonable accommodations and, in some cases, temporary relocation costs if students must travel for the internship.
Emerging Leaders
​A summer internship program for current undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities. Managed by the National Business & Disability Council at the Viscardi Center, the program places undergraduate and graduate college students with disabilities into fulfilling internships with employers nationwide.
Offers tools such as benchmarking for disability inclusion and stock photos for public use. The Inclusion Works program provides participating companies with virtual and onsite consulting provided by a team of disability inclusion experts and the Autism @ Work Playbook is a guide to finding talent and creating meaningful employment opportunities for people with autism.


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