Why Hiring People with Disabilities Is Good for Business

Published May 4, 2020

Several years ago, managers at Microsoft learned that the traditional process of hiring people with needed technology skills wasn’t identifying all the possible qualified candidates.

The first round of phone interviews, for example, tended to eliminate talented people on the autism spectrum who found it difficult to communicate in what was for them an uncomfortable setting.

In response, the company in 2015 started an autism hiring program specifically for job candidates with that disability. As The Wall Street Journal reported, Microsoft set up special practice conversations with recruiters who provided coaching before an actual interview. The company also lets these applicants use their own computers for software coding exercises instead of an unfamiliar machine.

Through the program, Microsoft has hired more than 100 people with autism for jobs in technology, finance, and content writing. Large corporations like Ernst & Young, JP Morgan Chase, and SAP have since adopted Microsoft’s accommodation model.

Like many employers in industries ranging from technology to retail to food services have learned, hiring people with disabilities is good for their business. Indeed, employers, disability advocates, and researchers say that the effort to adjust the workplace – from the hiring process, to work environment adaptations and specialized training – pays off in profits, productivity, and expanded markets, while also benefiting society at large.

Why is this important? If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you or someone you know has a disability, whether it’s a physical limitation, an intellectual disability, or a physical or cognitive injury. You’re not alone. In the U.S, one in four U.S. adults live with a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s more than 60 million people.

The Labor Department notes that employment for those with disabilities lags behind the broader population. The unemployment rate among disabled people is three times that of people without a disability. While that figure has declined over the past few years, it indicates that organizations are failing to fully tap into the potential of this workforce. An Accenture study noted that if companies take action to attract Americans with disabilities, they could add more than 10 million people to the available talent pool.

As the hiring managers at Microsoft and other firms learned, the benefits of employing people with disabilities exceeds the costs involved of hiring and training.

Among the payoffs of hiring people with disabilities

1. Better financial performance

Leading companies that actively seek to hire people with disabilities report 28 percent higher revenues, a 2018 study by Accenture found. Those firms also record higher net incomes and are more likely to have higher shareholder returns than other firms that are less proactive about hiring people with disabilities.

2. Productivity gains

Companies that take steps to hire employees with disabilities report increases in overall productivity, researchers at the Job Accommodation Network found. Walgreens found when it made a distribution center fully accessible and hired workers with disabilities for more than half of the jobs there, productivity spiked by 120 percent

3. Low on-boarding costs and tax breaks

Many accommodations cost nothing and for those accommodations that do carry a cost, the average was $500, according to a Job Accommodation Network survey of 776 employers.

In 2015, the federal government began offering the to employers Work Opportunity Tax Credit that hire people from certain targeted groups, including those with disabilities. While the law was set to expire on Jan. 1, 2020, Congress has been considering making it permanent. In addition, states including Delaware, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, New York and Tennessee offer varying tax credits to offset the costs of the wages of workers with disabilities.

Many companies find that training workers with disabilities pays for itself. A survey of 643 employers from several industries found that 70 percent “identified more benefits associated with hiring people with disabilities rather than costs, especially related to training,” noted a group of researchers who performed a meta-study on disability employment.

4. Higher employment retention and lower turnover

Once people with disabilities join the team, they are more likely to stay. For example, supermarkets have reported that turnover among staff is about 25 percent lower for workers with disabilities. A study of 500 food service firms also saw lower turnover, according to the meta-study on disability employment.

5. A more diverse culture — and a broader customer base

New people joining a company’s staff share their experiences and perspectives with colleagues. That can lead to additional benefits, including a more inclusive culture and a more positive work environment. Studies also show that businesses that employ people with disabilities are more likely to be patronized by customers with disabilities. This can add up: discretionary income for working-age people with disabilities is estimated at $21 billion, according to the American Institutes for Research.

There also are public-relations dividends. The Labor Department has established a new “excellence in disability inclusion award,” and firms such as Monster.com publicly recognize the most “disability-friendly employers."

Savvy employers see such recognition as a bonus for a hiring practice that’s just good for business.

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