Advice for Employers and Recruiters

Employing People with Disabilities is Good Business

Robin Porter AvatarRobin Porter
August 26, 2019

While there has been an increased effort over recent years to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce, the focus has been primarily on gender and ethnic diversity. That leaves out a large and important group—people with disabilities. Although the Americans With Disabilities Act became law in 1990, many would agree that employers have failed to live up to the promise of this act.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 29 percent of Americans ages 16 to 64 with a disability were employed as of June 2018, compared with nearly 75 percent of those without a disability. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities who are actively seeking work is 9.2 percent—more than twice as high as for those without a disability (4.2 percent).

Fortunately, a recent study (the first of its kind) has dispelled many of the misperceptions about employing people with disabilities. In fact, the results, as reported by Accenture and the American Association of People with Disabilities, show that companies that hire people with disabilities outperform other organizations, increasing both profitability and shareholder returns. More specifically, revenues were 28% higher, net income was 200% higher and profit margins were 30% higher.

In addition, Workplace Initiative, a network of companies, nonprofits and government agencies working to remove barriers for those with disabilities, reports that those companies also experienced reduced turnover, lower recruiting costs, increased productivity and customer outreach.

As it turns out, employing people with disabilities is good business.

“Persons with disabilities present business and industry with unique opportunities in labor-force diversity and corporate culture, and they’re a large consumer market eager to know which businesses authentically support their goals and dreams,” said Ted Kennedy, Jr., Disabilities Rights Attorney, American Association of People with Disabilities. “Leading companies are accelerating disability inclusion as the next frontier of social responsibility and mission-driven investing.”

So, how do companies attract and retain employees with disabilities?

4 Ways to Attract and Retain Employees with Disabilities

1. Create an inclusive culture.

There are many ways to build an inclusive culture. Some companies have appointed a diversity champion who works with disability-specific resource groups and ensures that company messaging reflects their efforts across all platforms. Companies may also choose to partner with outside groups. For example, General Motors partners with several outside groups, such as the Michigan Alliance of Autism, to find qualified candidates. They also have a disability advisory council that meets quarterly where people with different abilities are present, welcome and accommodated to discuss internal processes and systems and other issues.

The most important aspect of inclusion is that it must be ingrained in all aspects of the company culture, with support from senior leadership, and not just lip service or a few images on the website. It’s more than providing accessibility to the building and conference rooms—it’s about creating an environment that feels welcome and inclusive for all employees.

2. Expand your recruiting practices.

Most companies do a great job recruiting at colleges and job fairs, but to reach those with disabilities, these practices must include community organizations and disability-related advocacy groups. Recruiters should also be trained on laws related to disabilities, as well as how to engage with candidates that have unique needs. If possible, include employees with disabilities in your company-wide recruiting efforts, such as on college campuses and career fairs. Some resources to find qualified candidates with disabilities include:

  • The Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN) – a resource for employers seeking to recruit, hire and retain employees with disabilities.
  • State vocational rehabilitation agencies – provides counseling, evaluation and job placement services for people with disabilities.
  • The Workforce Recruitment Program – connects federal and private-sector employers with college students and recent college graduates with disabilities.

Companies can also host tables/booths at disability-related job fairs, establish summer internship and mentoring programs and post open position at independent living centers.

Other resources include the following:

  • The Recruitment and Retention section of the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) website contains comprehensive information for employers about recruiting and hiring qualified applicants with disabilities.
  • The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is dedicated to helping employers integrate or retain people with disabilities. It is a leading source of free, expert and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment.

3. Increase awareness.

Make sure your efforts are brought to life through awareness activities. For instance, many companies celebrate National Disability Employment month and highlight related activities on the website and/or on social media. Beyond just featuring images of employees with disabilities on the company brochure or website, make sure the message feels authentic by celebrating accomplishments, including stories that feature employees with disabilities making a difference within the company, and all employees working as team. If your company has received awards or recognition for your efforts, make sure they are easy to find by prospective employees. Finally, consider starting an employee resource group to support employees who are disabled and help create a positive onboarding process, which increases internal awareness.

4. Consider all areas of inclusion.

Many companies do a good job of providing access to people who use canes or wheelchairs, allowing them to easily enter/exit the building and navigate halls and doorways. However, inclusion goes far beyond creating access. Inclusive design means that people with disabilities can use websites and digital tools; can participate in conferences and meetings; and join in company events. Providing accessibility and accommodation in all areas of the business should be the goal.

For example, GM’s Disability Advisory Council, which is made up of employees at all levels, has championed captioned broadcasts, a process for handling requests for accommodations, and hosting educational lunches for all employees.

Right now, the labor market in the U.S. is very tight, and yet, many people with disabilities remain unemployed. The Accenture analysis reveals a very inspiring statistic: Hiring only 1% of the 10.7 million people with disabilities has the potential to boost the GDP by an estimated $25 billion! Perhaps, once companies begin to realize the economic benefits, as well as the fact that diversity of all types provides fresh insights (especially into developing and marketing products and services that meet the needs of diverse consumers), they will embrace the idea of creating both diverse and inclusive workplaces.

Learn more about diversity and inclusion at the College Recruiting Bootcamp on D&I at E&Y.

Date and Time:
Thursday, December 12, 2019
9:30 AM – 2:30 PM (EST)

Ernst & Young World Headquarters
121 River Street
Hoboken, NJ 07030


“Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage,” by Accenture and the American Association of People with Disabilities, 2019.
“Ways to Hire More People with Disabilities,” by Deborah Stadtler, SHRM, February 2019.

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