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How to Hire Workers With Disabilities (+5 Business Benefits)

Today is the International Day of
Persons with Disabilities
, designated by the United Nations as a day for
promoting the rights of disabled people worldwide. More specifically:

“It aims to promote
the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of
society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons
with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural

One of the most important areas in which we
can all make progress for the benefit of disabled people and society as a whole
is in the workplace. Although one in every five people worldwide has a disability,
discrimination is rife. Here are a few statistics taken from this
shocking compilation

  • The poverty rate for people with
    disabilities is 47%.
  • The employment rate for disabled people of
    working age is just 35%, compared with 78% for non-disabled people.
  • About one in four people with a disability will
    face at least one incident of discrimination every day.
  • 38% of people believe that someone with a
    disability is a burden on society.
  • In the UK, it’s estimated that over 100
    hate crimes are committed daily against individuals with disabilities.

So, what can you do to promote the rights and well-being of persons
with disabilities? Well, if you run a business or are in a position to hire
people, an important thing you can do is to give opportunities to disabled

Hiring disabled workers
Hiring disabled workers is a good business practice. (Image Source)

The good news is that
this is the right thing to do–not just from an ethical point of view, but also
from a strictly business perspective. 

In this tutorial,
we’ll go over some of the benefits of hiring workers
with disabilities, and then we’ll look at how you can do it effectively. We’ll
look at the hiring process, some retention strategies, and some success stories
from companies that have done a good job in this area.

1. The Benefits of Hiring Disabled Workers

Here are five simple reasons why it’s in
your interests to hire people with disabilities.

Strong Performance

Multiple surveys have found that employers
rate the performance of their disabled employees very highly. In addition,
disabled employees have stronger attendance records and better retention rates.

For example, a study by the
Institute for Corporate Productivity (I4CP)
found that:

  • More than three-quarters of employers rated
    employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) good or very
    good on performance factors.
  • 73% reported a positive experience
    employing individuals with IDD.
  • The top qualities of employees with IDD
    were dependability (89%), integration with coworkers (87%), and motivation

And according
to the UN

“National employment studies,
including a 30-year analysis by DuPont de Nemours, show that persons with
disabilities have equal or higher performance ratings, better retention rates
and less absenteeism.”

Expands the Talent Pool

As any employer knows, finding the right
person for an open position can be tough. It’s even tougher when you cut a
significant percentage of the workforce out of your talent pool, either intentionally or unintentionally, because of a disability that may not affect
their ability to do the job.

There are millions of people with
disabilities out there who are qualified to work, but are undervalued by many
employers. So, you can find people with skills and qualifications—and with the
motivation and other qualities mentioned in the I4CP study above—whom your
competitors may have overlooked.

Relate to Your Customers

Guess what? Many of your potential
customers are disabled too. You can serve them better if you’ve got a workforce
that reflects the full diversity of the wider community.

Employees with disabilities will not only
be able to project a disability-friendly image to your customers, but they’ll
also be able to suggest simple improvements—such as an accessible website or
clearer signage in your store—that you may otherwise have overlooked.

According to a UN

with disabilities relate better to customers with disabilities. In the United
States, this represents $1 trillion in annual aggregate consumer spending.”

Reap the Benefits of Diversity

In an earlier article in our series on diversity
in the workplace
, I looked at the benefits of promoting diversity in your

It turns out that there are many tangible
benefits, such as:

  • boosting innovation
  • achieving better
  • making more money
  • improving your reputation
  • and more

Disability is one of the key dimensions
of workplace diversity
, so by increasing the representation of disabled
people in your business, you’re contributing to overall workplace diversity and
lining yourself up to receive those benefits.

Get Tax Credits and Other Incentives

In some countries, you may qualify for
government incentives if you employ workers with disabilities.

In the US, for example, the Disabled Access
Credit, the Barrier Removal Tax Deduction, and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit
all offer financial incentives to companies that remove barriers to employment
for disabled people. More information is available on the IRS
, and if you’re based elsewhere, you can look for similar details in
your own country.

These incentives generally aren’t big
enough to qualify as the only reason to hire disabled people, but they provide
a nice sweetener when combined with the other reasons above.

There’s More… 

There are plenty more reasons to hire people with disabilities. Here are the top ones, according to a study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (I4CP). “IDD” stands for intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Reasons for hiring people with IDD

2. How to Hire Workers With Disabilities

So, if you want to hire disabled workers,
how do you go about it?

Rewrite Your Job Advertisements

While some of the exclusion of disabled
people from the workplace is due to outright discrimination, some of it’s also
due to simple mistakes.

For example, in your job adverts, are you
making any of these errors that may exclude some qualified candidates with

  • requiring a driving licence when driving isn’t key to the role
  • posting it on a website that isn’t fully
  • using a small font
  • not offering alternative formats for

You can find more items like this in
section 4.1 of this UK
government guide

Also think carefully about the language of
your ad, which can unintentionally exclude certain groups. Tools like Textio can help you become more aware of that.

Partner With Disability-Related Organizations

Go where your target audience is. If you
partner with advocacy organizations, they can connect you with qualified
candidates, advise you on the best approaches to take, and more.

You can also attend disability-related job
fairs and conferences, post ads in magazines or on websites produced by
disability advocacy organizations, or find specific job boards like that of the
Workforce Recruitment Program in the US, a
government program that connects
employers with college students and recent graduates with disabilities.

Create an Equal Opportunities Policy

This is basic, but small businesses may not
have considered it before. If you truly have an inclusive hiring policy, then
state it up front. Create an equal opportunities policy, post it on your
website, and refer to it in all your hiring materials.

For more on this, and on other hiring tips,
see the following tutorial:

And you can find more resources on hiring
workers with disabilities at the Society
for Human Resource Management website

Make Sure the Interview Process Is Fair

Another area where you can unintentionally
exclude people is in the interview process.

For example:

  • If you require people to take a test, are
    you giving them advance notice and allowing people to take it in a different
    format if necessary?
  • Are you asking questions that are focused
    squarely on the performance of the job function?
  • Are you making assumptions about how a
    disability would prevent the person completing certain tasks, or are you giving
    them a chance to show what they can do?

You can find an excellent guide to the
interview process on the EARN

3. How to Create an Inclusive Workplace and Improve

Of course, hiring disabled workers means
nothing if they leave soon after. Although, as we saw, disabled workers
generally have high retention rates, you’ll still need to take some measures to
ensure that your workplace is welcoming. This section takes you through what to

Accessibility Improvements

Employers are often worried about the cost
of accommodating people with disabilities. Costs are tight, and business owners
don’t want to divert a big portion of profits to making changes to the

But the good news is that the costs are
generally much lower than you’d think. From that UN

“A 2003 survey of
employers found that the cost of adaptation to accommodate employees with
disabilities was $500 or less. 73% of employers reported that their employees
did not require special facilities at all.”

Think about it. How much would it really cost
to install a ramp at the entrance to your office, or to provide screen-reading
software or modified telephones? When you look at it in the context of the
overall cost of hiring a new employee, any accommodations you need to make will
likely be a very small slice of the overall pie.

The UK government’s helpful guide
to employing disabled people
recommends the following simple improvements:

  • making changes to a disabled person’s
    working pattern
  • providing training or mentoring
  • making alterations to premises
  • ensuring that information is provided in
    accessible formats
  • modifying or acquiring equipment
  • allowing extra time during selection

There’s a wide range of disabilities out
there, so the strategies for making your workplace accessible vary widely too.
You can do plenty of research to prepare in advance, and then work in
collaboration with your new employee to find out what they need and provide it
to them.

You can also find a useful template on the
Ontario government website for creating an individual
accommodation plan

Attitude Changes

Survey after survey has shown that our
societies are still rife with prejudice towards disabled people. So, it’s pretty
much inevitable that some of those prejudiced beliefs will exist within your
staff members. You may even hold some of them yourself, whether you’re
conscious of them or not.

So, as well as making physical and
technological adjustments, you’ll also need to educate yourself and your staff
to ensure that you engage in productive relationships and get the most out of
your new employees.

There are some self-tests you can do
online, such as the Harvard
Implicit Bias test
, which will help you to identify unconscious bias or
unhelpful attitudes towards disabled people. And you can also contact nonprofit
organizations in your area to arrange training where necessary.

There are also some excellent online
resources for improving your awareness, such as the Employer
Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN)
, funded by
the U.S. Department of Labor.

Check out that site’s page on Attitudinal
, for example. It’s an excellent summary of some of the barriers
to workplace accessibility, such as:

  • Pity. People feel sorry for the employee
    and are patronizing as a result.
  • Hero Worship. People consider a person with
    a disability living independently to be “special.”
  • Multi-sensory affect. People assume that
    the employee’s disability affects his or her other senses.
  • And more.

The page also links to further resources
for arranging disability awareness training in your workplace.

4. Success Stories

Let’s finish by taking a look at a few
companies that have prioritized recruitment and retention of workers with
disabilities. How have they done it, and what have the benefits been? Here are
some examples.

Ernst & Young

The consulting and accounting giant Ernst
& Young (EY) was created by a founder with disabilities. Arthur Young was
deaf and had low vision, which made him unable to successfully practice as a
courtroom lawyer. So, he turned to accounting, and achieved enormous success.

These days, EY runs dedicated programs for
disabled employees, such as EY AccessAbilities and the Abilities Champion

Abilities Strategy Leader Lori B. Golden told
Huffington Post

“Research has also found organizations
employing people with disabilities have higher morale and employee engagement,
which we know drives profitability. Finally, people with disabilities often
have well-honed problem solving skills and a degree of adaptability that are
especially valuable in today’s fast-changing business environment.”

Dover Downs Hotel & Casino

Let’s head to Delaware now, where the Dover Downs Hotel & Casino formed a partnership with Autism Delaware and its
Productive Opportunities for Work & Recreation (POW&R) Program.

It started with getting on-site job coaches
from Autism Delaware to review open positions, which led to one young adult
with a disability being placed in a Dover Downs job that matched her skills.
The program grew, and today the firm employs 12 individuals on the autism
spectrum. The company also runs a summer camp for kids with disabilities to
help them try out a particular job on a temporary basis.

Dover Downs Vice
President Peter Bradley told

“For Dover Downs, the
employment of individuals with disabilities has been a win/win. We have gained
highly productive, reliable employees through the practice—all with fairly
minor adjustments or changes to the way we operate.”

South Dakota Retailers

Finally, here’s a great video showing some
day-to-day stories of disabled employees working at small businesses in South

It’s a reminder of the simple truth that
disabled workers really aren’t that different from other workers. They can do
plenty of jobs, and in some cases they can do them very well. As one of the
business owners says:

“I don’t look at this as us
providing an opportunity for him. I look at it as him offering us an

If you want to read or watch more success
stories, check out the EARN site.


In this tutorial, we’ve been through some
tips on hiring workers with disabilities. We’ve looked at some the benefits of
it for your business, and then examined the nuts and bolts of hiring and retention.
And finally, we’ve seen a few success stories from various companies.

You can find some more tips and advice in
our series on diversity
in the workplace
and on HR
for small business
. Or check out these useful resources:

What are you doing to mark the International Day of
Persons with Disabilities
? Let us know in the comments.