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The Future of Work

Most Employers Are Overlooking This Source Of Talent

People with disabilities have much needed skills and creativity, yet they are a largely overlooked talent source.

[Photo: Flickr user US Department of Education]

Smart companies are always looking for new ways to find and retain talented employees.

Often-overlooked prospects are people with disabilities. Just 19% of people with disabilities participate in the labor force (compared with over 68% of the rest of the population) and their unemployment rate is nearly 11%.

"If you want to have a workforce that thinks outside of the box I think it’s really important to be tapping into a diverse population like the population of workers with disabilities, because they live outside of the box. They’re constantly thinking about better and smarter ways to do things and to get around obstacles," says Barbara Otto, who heads Chicago, Illinois-based Think Beyond the Label, an organization that promotes hiring of people with disabilities.

Otto says that employees with disabilities also tend to have lower rates of absenteeism and higher overall retention rates than workers without disabilities. And while you can find candidates with disabilities in all of the same places you find other prospective hires, there are also some places you can look and things you can do to find and attract them more directly.

Make it a priority

It sounds simple, but you need to include hiring people with disabilities in your diversity initiatives, which is a common oversight, says Joyce Bender, president and CEO of Bender Consulting Services, LLC, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania consulting firm that works with organizations to recruit employees with disabilities. Work with hiring managers to help them seek out qualified candidates. Discuss your goals with your employees and encourage them to recommend qualified people with disabilities from among their networks.

Use a voluntary disclosure form

As of January 2015, federal contractors are required to invite job candidates to voluntarily disclose disabilities during the application process via a Department of Labor-created form. The form is meant to increase opportunities for people with disabilities. Since some disabilities can’t be seen, voluntary disclosure can help you understand the needs of employees with various disabilities and better accommodate their needs while cultivating your own company’s diversity, Otto says.

Reach out to special interest groups

There are many local, state and federal programs and organizations that help people with disabilities find jobs. This list from the Department of Labor includes a number of organizations that specialize in training, connecting and placing young people with disabilities in appropriate jobs. The National Organization on Disability and SourceAmerica also offer help to employers who wish to hire people with disabilities. Each state also has a vocational rehabilitation agency to help people with disabilities. Otto says that Think Beyond the Label has been running online career fairs, which make it more possible for job seekers with disabilities to interact with diversity recruiters.

Understand your responsibilities

Depending on the type and size of your business, you may have certain obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act in providing accommodations for employees with disabilities, ranging from technology to help them do their jobs to making your facility more accessible to people with physical disabilities. Bender says that some employers are scared off by the cost, but that’s largely a myth, she says.

According to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy service, more than half of accommodations cost nothing to make. Of the rest, the typical cost is roughly $500. In addition, you may qualify for tax incentives to make your business more accessible. JAN is a free consulting service that provides accommodations solutions and technical advice on the employment provisions of the ADA.

Offer strong workplace benefits

A 2013 Think Beyond the Label survey found that telecommuting is an important perk for people with disabilities, especially those who might not be able to work in a traditional environment. Others included flexible spending programs, onsite fitness centers and services, and free or subsidized meals.

Be a welcoming place

Otto says that prospective employees look for environments where they feel comfortable. One of the best ways to make your workplace feel more welcoming to employees with disabilities is to talk about your goals to include hiring people with disabilities. Make sure the "careers" section of your web site includes images and language that show you value diversity and inclusion and how you support employees with disabilities, she says.

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