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

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This post is part of a series called The Complete Small Business Human Resources (HR) Guide.
15 Important HR Basics for Every Small Business Owner
10 Best HR Software Solutions for Your Small Business (2018)

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 life.”

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 workers.

Hiring disabled workersHiring disabled workersHiring 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 (86%).

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 factsheet:

“Employees 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 business.

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

  • boosting innovation
  • achieving better decision-making
  • 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 website, 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 IDDReasons for hiring people with IDDReasons 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 disabilities?

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

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 website.

3. How to Create an Inclusive Workplace and Improve Retention

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 do.

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 workplace.

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

“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 ‘tests’

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 Awareness, 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 Network.

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 EARN:

“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 Dakota.

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 opportunity."

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.

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