Hiring Workers With Disabilities: A Comprehensive Guide

Hiring workers with disabilities can benefit job seekers, the community, and your business.


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Hiring Workers with Disabilities: a comprehensive Guide

As business leaders strive to increase their reach into the talent market, they also look to increase representation in underserved communities. Candidates and customers seek out organizations with a diverse and inclusive workplace. Expanding recruitment and hiring efforts to workers with disabilities isn’t just sound marketing, it’s good for the community and business.

The Centers for Disease Control reports 26% of Americans have some form of disability. The highest percentage among those face challenges with mobility – walking or climbing stairs. For this group, wheelchair access is a low cost way business can make an accommodation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 9% of people with disabilities are unemployed — more than double the rate of those without a disability. Yet more than 30% of workers with a disability hold a Bachelor’s or higher degree. Tapping into this talent pool should be a high priority for businesses.

9% of people with disabilities are unemployed — more than double the rate of those without a disability.

High return on investment …

A nonprofit recently helped a food service company analyze the benefits of outreach. Their client runs hospital and university food court locations. One facility with 46 employees found over $100,000 in added value annually by hiring persons with disabilities. They found performance at a higher level than colleagues; less than half the absentee rate; and zero turnover at the end of one year: compared to 18 resignations among other workers.

Other surveys have found businesses see a 90% increase in retention among workers with disabilities. With the high cost and challenges of recruitment, the data suggests hiring persons with disabilities is good for business as well as job seekers.

… that typically costs nothing

Many business leaders worry about the cost or disruption of accommodating a person with a disability. For these, the Department of Labor’s Job Accommodation Network (JAN) provides free, expert advice on workplace accommodations. Most employers are surprised to find how a small (or no) investment in an accommodation can offer such a high return.

The Job Accommodation Network surveyed employers on the benefits and costs of outreach. Their data found from employers ranging from small business to Fortune 500 companies, the cost of an accommodation was low to none. More than half, 56%, of employers reported the accommodation cost nothing: the remainder cost business $500 or less. Retention rates for these employees was high: slightly less than seven years.

Getting started

Expanding recruitment into this community begins with a culture of welcoming. When you post job openings, go further than a boilerplate ‘EOE’ comment at the end of your post. Include language that suggests people with disabilities are encouraged to apply, and that your organization will work to make accommodations for qualified applicants. List any necessary physical requirements of the position – i.e., able to lift and move boxes in excess of 40 pounds on a routine basis – so applicants can understand what the work entails. Include that workers may perform these physical duties with or without an accommodation.

You may be able to target job postings to persons with disabilities. Look for federal, state, and local employment groups that support the community.

The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) is a free, nationwide service that maintains a list of job posting websites geared toward job seekers with disabilities.

The Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities (WRP) connects businesses with highly motivated postsecondary students and recent graduates with disabilities. Employers can post positions on their site for WRP candidates to apply.

Resources are also available for employers looking to hire veterans with a disability, both federally and locally. Look for community groups in your area that specialize in working with the people who have disabilities. In addition to helping find qualified candidates, these groups may be able to assist with accommodations and training.

Make sure your application process is seamless: offer ways for people with visual or hearing impairments to apply. When interviewing, make sure sites are physically accessible to anyone you call in for a meeting.

Interview dos and don’ts

As with all interviews, the conversation should be always be about the work, not the worker.

When interviewing candidates, there are some questions you should not ask. They may be in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. In some instances, the disability is apparent – using a wheelchair, for example. For others, you may not know the candidate has a disability at all. As with all interviews, the conversation should be always be about the work, not the worker. Focus discussions on the needs of the job and the ability to perform, not their specific challenges.

Don’t ask:

  • Do you have a physical, mental or cognitive disability?
  • What is your disability?
  • Do you have any impairments that might affect your ability to perform the work?
  • How many days were you absent because of your disability at your last job?

Do ask:

Can you perform the duties of this position with or without an accommodation?

If the applicant has a known or obvious disability, you may ask them to describe how you would perform the duties.

These are people who have mastered their physical environment: they may have solutions you have not considered. Or you may work together to create accommodations.

If your company requires all potential hires (or all for specific job categories) undergo a medical examinations, you may do so for candidates with disabilities under the same terms and conditions. For most organizations, a best practice is to require a medical exam only after a conditional offer of employment.

Finding accommodations

For most employers, accommodations are a low to no-cost way to hire candidates with disabilities. Raising a desk on wooden blocks to let a wheelchair fit comfortably under is an easy fix. You can build some accommodations into your business today. For workers who are unable to commute due to physical challenges, remote work is an established accommodation. For many visually impaired candidates, their own equipment already has the software needed to perform work remotely.

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) has a Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR) system. It lets you search for accommodation options for people with disabilities. If you can’t find a solution there, they have expert consultants available to help.

Look for easy fixes. If a role is primarily desk-bound, but occasionally moves around filing boxes, it will be reasonable to reassign that duty. If the majority of the work is moving boxes, however, the accommodation might be a hardship on others. Work with your team and candidate to look for solutions that benefit everyone.

Financial incentives

There are many tax credits and financial incentives for businesses to expand their talent pool into the disability community. These can help you make the transition, offset costs to hire, and even open your facility to customers with disabilities. Here are some incentives:

  • The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) helps businesses reach out to those who have traditionally faced barriers to employment.
  • The IRS offers a Barrier Removal Deduction of up to $15,000 for making a facility or vehicle more accessible.
  • The Disabled Access Credit is targeted to small businesses that incur expenses for providing access to people with disabilities. SMBs can take these credits annually.

When corporate social responsibility drives your business to boost its diversity and inclusion efforts, outreach into the disability community should be a high priority. This talent pool is highly skilled, dedicated, and productive. Your organization will benefit from recruiting these workers, whatever condition the talent market holds.


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