Diversify your workforce by hiring people with disabilities and you will not be disappointed. This is, bar none, my experience over the last five years. Before coming to EDSI, I had the opportunity to work on a team of which over 90 percent of the members were people with disabilities. Not only did I learn about business and the beauty of diversity, but I also learned about myself.
According to the United States Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities 16 years and older was 11.1 percent in July 2016 (https://www.dol.gov/odep/). This is over double the unemployment rate for people without disabilities, and many of people with disabilities have very marketable skills and qualifications.
In addition, I have seen that people with disabilities bring unique perspectives to the table. Many of them have learned to think outside of the box to overcome architectural, attitudinal, and accessible technology barriers that are still a part of their daily lives. Will this seasoned ability contribute to your team and your bottom line? Absolutely. This perspective can offer creative solutions or a fresh approach that just might contain the solutions your team is seeking.
People with disabilities often have to work harder than their non-disabled counterparts. Not only have they potentially just faced a long job search where their disability was possibly more visible than their qualifications, they now may have to confront attitudinal misconceptions on their ability in the workplace. How do you disprove such misconceptions? You show up early, stay late, and give 110% in between. I have seen it play out, and employees and businesses are well served.
Furthermore, reasonable accommodations are often inexpensive and can open a world of independence for qualified people with disabilities and bring value to employers. For example, individuals who are blind and use screen reader technology may go through materials faster than their non-disabled counterparts because they are listening to rather than visually taking in the information.
So, you ask, what did I learn about myself on this team? I learned that my unique work style and/or approach adds value to the team and my employer and does not detract from it. So, I have been even more willing to contribute, often going out on a limb to offer ideas. In turn, when I open my work style to diverse perspectives, I grow professionally by having the opportunity to observe other ways to work a problem or tackle a project.
Fortunately, advancing employment of people with disabilities has come to the forefront with the implementation of Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Under this ruling, many if not most federal contractors are required to hire people with disabilities. More valuable information can be found at https://www.dol.gov/ofccp/regs/compliance/section503.htm.
In conclusion, hiring people with disabilities is a good business decision. Employers get employees with abilities, creativity, and motivation to work and excel. So, we have an employer/employee win-win, and in the business world, that is a beautiful thing.