How to recruit people with disabilities

For far too long, it seems, conversations around hiring people with disabilities has been put in the ‘too difficult’ basket. And yes, that’s even amongst companies who continually moan that they are struggling to fill job vacancies.

If you don’t believe me, the statistics to support this largely speak for themselves.

As of June 2022 just 23.1% of people with disabilities were employed in the US workforce. This compares with the 68.2% employment rate of those without disabilities. Put another way, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is more than double the rate without disabilities (8.2% versus 3.6%).

It’s time to act now

This October is officially National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2022 – which acknowledges the contributions to the nation’s economy made by workers with disabilities. But why wait till then? It’s time to act now.

What’s often ignored is the fact that people with disabilities comprise a sizable cohort of Americans offering organizations a significant return on investment. For example, research by Accenture has recently shown that companies who embrace best practices for employing and supporting more people with disabilities in their workforce boosted their revenue by 28%, net income by 200%, and profit margins by 30%.

So perhaps the big question is this: ‘If you’ve never hired people with disabilities before, how do you go about it?’

Aim to be more accommodating

The key, I believe is making your workplace more welcoming for people with disabilities, and this applies to physical accommodations as well as digital accommodations (websites, software platforms, and job postings).

Rethink recruitment and hiring

If you don’t change your recruitment approaches, you won’t improve your results.

Here’s how to open up your talent pool:

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  • Check if your website is up to par for accessibility. For example, does it meet the standards of the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA?
  • Consider how you’re advertising your roles, such as in printed or online material, and ask yourself, ‘can people with a disability easily access and navigate through it? Do your brand’s colour palette and design follow best practice principles for accessibility?’ HubSpot and HootSuite offer additional guidance.
  • Start with your recruitment function for your company-wide rollout of Universal Design practices. Check the seven principles here
  • Ensure your technology platforms don’t create more hassles for would-be employees. Aim for accessible platforms for candidates with disabilities to meet with local service organizations, local and national organizations that promote job opportunities. Visit the Inclusion Hub for ideas.
  • Begin a discourse with school districts and local high schools to match skills labor needs with education experience and outcomes locally. Follow in the footsteps of the world’s largest package delivery company, UPS. In Kentucky, it partnered with a disability services provider, Options Unlimited, to create and lead a coalition of 40 such agencies to set up the Transitional Learning Centre offering pre-employment training. Find out more about their achievements here, and
  • Search for regional or local Think College organizations to build relationships. These organizations have college and university programs for students with disabilities to help make them career-ready.

Better ways to onboard

Once you’ve hired a person with a disability, don’t assume your standard onboarding processes are fit for purpose.

To embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion for these hires, consider:

  • Introducing mentoring and pairing new joiners up with an informal buddy
  • Creating opportunities for expanding your work culture, so people with disabilities feel comfortable openly discussing their issues with co-workers and management
  • Monitoring how your recruit is adapting to your workplace – undertake periodic comprehensive assessments of the system and accommodations to ensure continuous improvement
  • Offering access to employee-specific support programs such as wellbeing, health, and counselling, and
  • Documenting your processes and policies for being a more inclusive employer and regularly review them. Involve your staff with disabilities in this, too.

What else?

  • Think of pathways with tailored support, such as registered apprenticeship programs. The figures stack up. For every $1 an employer invests in an apprenticeship, their return is $1.47 on average, says the National Apprenticeship organization.
  • Be candid with interviewees with disabilities to better understand the specific accommodations they need in your workplace.
  • Consider organizing job-ready support, including employee transport.

More information:

The Job Accommodation Network offers free advice on workplace accommodations needed to help people with disabilities to apply for jobs and be successful at work.

But don’t forget to tap into government initiatives and programs that help employers make reasonable workplace adjustments. A great starting point is this Department of Labor website – it includes details about tax incentives for employers and how to run inclusive internship programs.

Push the fear of the unknown aside and explore the above tips. They draw directly from those who’ve made disability hiring part of their business operations.

Nicholas Wyman is a future work expert, author, speaker and president of the Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation. He has been LinkedIn’s #1 Education Writer of the Year, too, and written an award-winning book, Job U, a practical guide to finding wealth and success by developing the skills companies actually need. Nicholas has an MBA and has studied at Harvard Business School and the Kennedy School of Government and was awarded a Churchill Fellowship.

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