by Belo Miguel Cipriani
Hiring a person with a disability can seem like a big risk, especially as a small business owner with limited resources.
Many businesses still hold misconceptions about employing the disabled, including the cost of accommodations and employees’ ability to add value.
The perceived risks of hiring employees with disabilities often overshadow business owners’ good intentions to make fair hiring decisions. Employees taking more time off for health problems, the prohibitive costs of adaptive equipment, potential legal issues, and accessibility could make any small business owner concerned about his company’s bottom line.
The fact is that the 56.7 million people with disabilities in the U.S. have a large part to play in the economic health of the country. Hiring the disabled should not stem from guilt or societal pressure; rather, hiring them can provide a measurable return on investment to the businesses that employ them.
The Gap Between Perception and Reality
In the United States, only 17.8 percent of people with a disability are employed. Recently, the National Industries for the Blind polled hiring managers at a variety of different-sized companies to gauge their attitudes toward hiring a person who is blind. According to the study, “Twenty-three percent of hiring managers said blind employees are not as productive as their colleagues, and 19 percent believe these employees have a higher absentee rate.”
Yet a 2007 study by DePaul University found that disabled and non-disabled employees actually had similar performance ratings, and disabled employees needed no more supervision than any other group. This data confirms an earlier study by DuPont.
Besides being comparable in work performance, those with disabilities tend to stay with a company for a longer period of time, making the investment more valuable. And, because employees with disabilities have unique needs, companies that employ them often reassess how and why they perform certain tasks, leading to the incorporation of new technology, more efficient processes, and productive changes in workflow.
The Benefits Outweigh the Costs of Accessibility
Since most businesses ignore people with disabilities, a company can gain a real advantage by being able to reach, engage, and cater to this growing subset of the population. The disabled and their families and friends hold an estimated $269 billion in buying power, and consumers in general (87 percent) prefer organizations that employ those with disabilities.
While the benefit of reaching these customers is impressive, there is still the question of cost. Those with disabilities have unique needs that require time, effort, and an initial investment on the part of the business, but the costs of accommodation are much lower than most employers think.
Pointing to the DePaul University study, the average cost of accommodations for a new hire amounted to $313. Many people need different arrangements to be effective in their work environments, such as a change in monitor height or a desk with easier access. For those who require specialized equipment (such as a screen reader or a chair for someone with a degenerative disc disease), the cost is typically less than $500.
Many business owners aren’t aware of the substantial tax benefits and programs—which can reach more than $20,000—that offset the costs of accessibility and provide businesses with incentives to hire, train, and retain those with disabilities.
- The U.S. Social Security Ticket to Work Program enables employers to generate more than $4,800 within the first nine months of an employee’s hire.
- The Work Opportunity Tax Credit, depending on the number of hours worked by the employee, can enable a company to claim a certain percentage of wages earned.
Companies taking advantage of this system are reaping rewards not only from the government, but also through decreased internal costs. A Walgreens distribution center saved more than $17,000 in workers’ compensation costs after making an effort to hire those with disabilities.
Hiring for diversity—especially those with a disability—shouldn’t be done because of a social or emotional obligation. Similar to any other recruitment effort, you need to find a candidate who has the necessary skills, is a long-term fit for the organization, and can provide real value to your company—all the qualifications that many disabled people possess. Hiring people with disabilities isn’t tokenism: It’s an investment in your business.
Belo Cipriani is the award-winning author of Blind: A Memoir and Midday Dreams. He is a disability advocate, and is currently the national spokesman for 100 Percent Wine—a premium winery that donates 100 percent of proceeds to nonprofits that help people with disabilities find work. Learn more at belocipriani.com.