Looking for Employees: An Untapped Source of Talent

February 8, 2018 | SueAnn Morrow, PhD, CESP

SueAnn Morrow, Ph.D., CESP; Employment Services Specialist; Money Follows the Person Program

Recently, ABI named workforce issues its number one legislative priority for the 2018 session and reported many of its members have difficulty finding qualified workers. There doesn’t seem to be a labor pool with the needed skills.

At the same time, there’s a labor force waiting to be put to work—Iowans with disabilities. While Iowa’s unemployment rate is hovering around 3.1%, Iowans with disabilities face a far greater rate of unemployment—somewhere around a staggering 10 percent.

Can individuals with disabilities benefit your business? Research, as well as my personal experience, says yes.

Multiple studies show hiring individuals with disabilities is good for your bottom line. While there were some differences by sector, a study by DePaul University comparing employees with and without disabilities in similar positions found employees with disabilities had longer tenure, fewer scheduled and unscheduled absences, and their job performance evaluations were almost identical. Spending less time in the hiring process and fewer disruptions in production are good for the bottom line.

Employees with disabilities can be loyal, reliable and hardworking. An additional benefit of employees with disabilities in the workforce is the diversity they bring to it. This often leads to an overall positive work environment. Likewise, their unique experiences due to their disability often bring fresh perspectives to ways of doing business.

Another study found community members prefer to give their business to companies that hire individuals with disabilities. Adding to that, individuals with disabilities and their families and friends also tend to do business with companies who employ individuals with disabilities. This group represents a $175 billion dollar market segment. Customers want to do business with companies whose workforce mirrors their communities, and individuals with disabilities are part of these communities.

One reason often cited for the high unemployment number is the myths surrounding hiring and working with employees with disabilities. Some of the more common ones are listed here along with the facts:

Myth: Under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), you can’t fire an employee who has a disability.
Fact: You can fire employees with disabilities under three conditions: 1) The action is not related to the employee’s disability, 2) The employee is not meeting the requirements of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation or 3) The employee poses a direct threat to the health or safety of the workplace because of their disability.

Myth: It’s very expensive to provide accommodations to employees with disabilities.
Fact: It’s been estimated about 73 percent of employees with disabilities require no accommodation at all. Of those that do about 56 percent cost less than $600. Many cost nothing. Often the accommodations provided help other employees do their job better also. Additionally, the federal government offers tax incentives to help employers pay for accommodations or modifications that will make their business accessible to persons with disabilities.

Myth: Hiring individuals with disabilities will cause my workers’ compensation insurance rates to rise.
Fact: Insurance rates are based on the relative hazards of the operation and your accident experience, not whether you have hired an individual with a disability.

Hiring individuals with disabilities is good business sense. They represent a minority whose talents and contributions have, for too long, gone untapped.

SueAnn Morrow, Ph.D., CESP, is the employment services specialist with the Money Follows the Person Program at the University Center for Excellence in Disabilities at the University of Iowa. Contact her via e-mail at sueann-morrow@uiowa.edu.