Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been on the books for decades, people who have disabilities are more likely to be unemployed compared to their non-disabled colleagues. The employment gap for workers with disabilities leaves potential talent untapped. Fortunately, more and more employers are beginning to realize this, and those who have shifted to inclusive hiring have often reported positive effects. To learn more about inclusive recruiting, see our recommended strategies and practices below.
Not only is inclusive recruiting and hiring a moral imperative, it also benefits employers. One study found that companies that improved their inclusion of people with disabilities were four times more likely to have better shareholder returns. Let’s look at a few reasons why that might be the case.
People with disabilities represent a significant segment of the population, but they’re also more likely to be unemployed. The result is so much talent remains untapped. And now, during the “Great Resignation,” employers have found it much harder to fill open positions. That translates to more time scouting and less work getting done. By shifting to an inclusive hiring perspective, you are more likely to find qualified candidates.
Inclusion also improves work quality. Often as a necessity of living with a disability in an able-centric world, many people with disabilities have learned to be innovative and great problem solvers—attributes that benefit all types of companies. And, through their lived experience, they likely have insight into how to make products or services more accessible to others with disabilities. If you can harness that innovation and make changes to your offerings, your company’s product may reach more of the marketplace.
Some employees’ disabilities might even make them better at their job. According to EARN, “employers who hire neurodiverse employees note their aptitude for roles that require attention to detail, ability to detect patterns, and capacity for inferential reasoning, as well as strong skills in mathematics, coding, and other data-driven processes.” A famous example is that the co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Ben Cohen, has a condition that limits his taste and smell, which was the driving force behind the textures that became the brand’s signature style.
Increasingly, employees value diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts by businesses. One survey found that almost 80% of respondents said they want to work for a company that values diversity and inclusion. They want to work for employers who not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk. According to the Job Accommodation Network, many workplace accommodations don’t cost the employer anything out of pocket, and those that do typically cost only $500.
As a bonus, some initiatives geared towards attracting employees with disabilities, such as flexible schedules, remote work, or quiet workspaces, can benefit all workers. Designing a workplace that’s more inclusive of employees with disabilities makes for a workplace that’s more inviting overall.
The specific path to recruiting people with disabilities will vary from company to company, but here are some ideas to consider in no particular order.
First, reach out to organizations that help companies recruit people with disabilities. Examples include:
Second, post open positions with your company on sites designed for candidates with disabilities, such as abilityJOBS, AbilityLinks, or disABLEDperson, Inc. If you’re creating recruiting videos for your company website or social media, add closed captioning.
Third, if you have more than a few employees, gauge their interest in starting a disability employee resource group (ERG). ERGs are voluntary employee-led groups where employees connect based on common identities. Disability ERGs can take on various forms, such as a general disability group, groups for specific types of disabilities (e.g., veterans with service-connected injuries), or employees who are caregivers to people with disabilities. ERGs can provide support to employees with disabilities and might also provide ideas to bolster the company’s inclusive hiring strategy. In fact, simply having a disability ERG at your company can attract candidates who are seeking or value disability inclusion. EARN offers a free ERG toolkit.
Fourth, get your organization involved in a local disability organization. You could volunteer, attend a conference, sponsor an event, or serve on a board of directors. Connecting with your disability community will likely increase your connections to people with disabilities and might indirectly result in finding qualified candidates who happen to have disabilities.
No matter what approach you take, you’ll want to incorporate disability inclusion into your recruiting strategy. Make a plan that you can commit to. Put it in writing and hold your company accountable to it.
To attract employees with disabilities, make sure to remove barriers to inclusive hiring. First and foremost, employers should consider providing disability awareness and etiquette training for managers and everyone involved in hiring. EARN has some etiquette tips on its site and several organizations, such as the National Organization on Disability, offer training to increase disability awareness.
You should also assess your workplace to see if it’s physically accessible for candidates to participate in interviews. Areas to check include the parking lot, doorways, conference rooms, stairs and elevators, and restrooms. You should be able to make some improvements easily, such as creating space for a person using a wheelchair at a conference table, while others might require coordinating with the landlord, such as installing push-button door openers or renovating a restroom.
The next area of accessibility to analyze is technology. Accessible technology refers to tools that people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities can use successfully. Some technology may be inherently accessible (e.g., a smartphone with a built-in screen reader), while others can achieve accessibility by using additional assistive technology (e.g., a website that a person with a visual impairment can navigate using a screen reader). In terms of hiring, employers will want to ensure their website, email, online job applications, and digital interviews are accessible or compatible with additional assistive technology. The Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT) provides a free toolkit, which offers additional guidance and action steps.
The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to applicants with disabilities so that they have a fair shot at getting hired. You can be proactive about this obligation by communicating how to request an accommodation on their job application, when you tell applicants they’ve been chosen for an interview, and at the beginning of interviews. Accommodations during hiring can include adjusting an application procedure, providing written materials in accessible formats (e.g., braille or audio), providing real-time captioning during a digital interview—and more.
Lastly, you might consider adopting certain accommodations as part of your standard operating procedure because they’re inexpensive, easy, or beneficial to a broad range of candidates. For example, scrapping traditional interviews in favor of working interviews can allow a candidate to demonstrate their skills. Some tech companies have reported that taking a non-traditional approach has been successful with applicants who are on the autism spectrum.
You can learn more about disabilities and the ADA here on the Mineral Blog.
Megan R. Lemire, JD, SPHR, is a Legal Analyst. Before joining Mineral, she practiced employment litigation, focusing on disability and discrimination.