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Facing a Labor Shortage? Invest in Employees with Disabilities

Mar 10, 2023

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 19.1% of persons with disability (PDF) were employed in 2021. That number actually increased from the previous year, but it’s alarming when compared with the 63.7% of people without disabilities who were employed in 2021. 

Employers should take notice. Skilled labor is always in short supply, and while the pace of hiring surged significantly in January 2023, many industries still face a worker shortage. 

About 26% of U.S. adults have disabilities — and businesses that ignore this talent pool are missing an enormous opportunity.

Employees with disabilities bring skills, perspective, and value

The scope of disabilities is extremely wide, and when discussing large groups of people with different skills and capabilities, statistics can be limited. Even so, there’s plenty of evidence to show that inclusive hiring practices pay dividends.

  • systematic review published in the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation found that hiring people with disabilities led to improvements in profitability, customer loyalty and satisfaction, innovation, productivity, and work ethic.
  • An Accenture Research study identified 45 companies that stood out for their leadership in disability employment. Over a four-year period, those leaders had, on average, 28% higher revenue, 200% higher net income, and 30% better performance on economic profit margin than their competitors.
  • In a Remote survey, employers identified the three most significant benefits of inclusive hiring practices: A wider talent pool, improved employee engagement and performance, and increased creativity and innovation.
  • In a survey performed by Kelly Services found that 71% of Americans said that they are more likely to support a business that makes employment opportunities available to individuals on the autism spectrum. 

When your organization hires people with a diverse range of abilities — and empowers those individuals to perform at a high level — the benefits are substantial. 

“Reasonable accommodations” may be more reasonable than you think

Of course, employers are prohibited from discriminating against job applicants on the basis of disabilities in the United States, Canada and many other countries. Generally, employers must also pay for reasonable workplace accommodations — but businesses often overestimate the cost of those accommodations.

Forrester study (PDF) commissioned by Microsoft found that employers perceived “high costs" as the most significant barrier for providing accessible technologies. Another 26% of survey respondents cited “lack of funding available" as the most significant barrier.

But in reality, accommodations are an inexpensive investment. A 2020 survey performed by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) found that 56% of accommodations for employees cost nothing at all. For accommodations that required a one-time cost, the median expenditure was only $500. 

There’s a reason that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) describes accommodations as “reasonable.” The benefits of talent outweigh the costs of accommodating that talent — and that certainly sounds reasonable to us. 

Related: How Much Do "Reasonable Accommodations" Cost? Not Much.

Managers need to use an inclusive mindset when hiring

Unfortunately, while more businesses are prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), discrimination is still common. In one study, only 39% of employees with disabilities said that they’d disclosed their disability status to a manager. Only 24% had disclosed their status to a colleague.

Why? Respondents said that they feared teasing, harassment, being perceived as less capable, and reduced progress in their careers. Discrimination — even if it’s only the possibility of discrimination — is a powerful factor.

Leaders can fight these perceptions by starting discussions about disabilities and empowering their workers. No employee should feel compelled to discuss their disabilities, but they recognize their work environment as inclusive. That starts with an accessible hiring process.

Related: Accessible Hiring and Recruiting: Quick Tips

A diverse workforce can help your business succeed

In 2023, businesses must treat inclusivity as a priority. Don’t ask “should we hire employees with disabilities?” A much better question: “How can we attract the employees we need for long-term growth?”

Ignoring talent is bad for business. People with disabilities are just as capable of delivering value as people without disabilities — and if your business ignores that fact, you’re creating an unnecessary roadblock. 

To build an accessible hiring portal and learn how inclusive design can help your organization, send us a message or download our free eBook: Developing the Accessibility Mindset.

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