Hiring persons with disabilities (PWDs) is good for business. Research going back as far as 1997 reveals that opening hiring to those with disabilities directly links to increased profitability, boosts a company's image, and provides a number of competitive advantages such as improved customer loyalty and employee productivity.
Most employers understand these facts, and the vision of a diverse and accessible workplace where both employers and employees benefit is one shared by many.
Unfortunately, that vision is easier dreamed of than achieved. Rates of employment for PWDs continue to trail behind employment rates for those without disabilities.
Almost 20% of PWDs were employed in 2019, compared to 66.3% of those without disabilities. In the same year, the unemployment rate for those with disabilities was 7.3%, while those without disabilities were 3.5%.
According to this study from the Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation, multiple factors contribute to the relatively low employment rate of PWDs.
It is at least in part due to bias and stereotypes about individuals with disabilities. This bias is not necessarily intentional, but as a result, many job openings are inaccessible to those with disabilities and inherently favor those without disabilities to an unfair degree.
However, employers can level this uneven playing field through conscious changes in their hiring practices and workplace culture. This article will examine what steps employers can take to become more welcoming of those with mental and physical disabilities throughout every employee recruitment stage while promoting increased employment for PWDs.
1. Update your recruiting and outreach
This is of particular concern if these materials contain insensitive or ableist language or make no attempt to consider PWDs as viable applicants. Improving inclusivity starts by altering your hiring practices to better identify and attract PWDs to your business.
When creating inclusive job descriptions, avoid language that reduces people to their disability and instead opt for "person-first" language that emphasizes their humanity (saying "persons with disabilities" as opposed to "the disabled," for instance).
Coupling this approach with mentions that your job postings are open to those with disabilities will further encourage them to apply.
For example, noting that your company does not discriminate based on disability status signals to PWDs that you aren't excluding them from consideration. Similarly, emphasizing that you will provide as-needed modifications reassures them that you will actively adjust to grant them a fair shot.
In addition to adopting inclusive language in your hiring materials, you'll also want to ensure that you are promoting your job vacancies in places where PWDs will be more likely to access them. Social media is a good place to start, as it will enable you to reach a wide audience and include keywords that people with disabilities can use to find your openings via search more readily.
Beyond social channels, though, you should also make an effort to feature job openings with websites focused on PWD candidates. Additionally, share job postings with organizations that specialize in working with individuals with disabilities in your region, such as your state's vocational rehabilitation agency or Disability:IN.
You must treat all prospective employees with the utmost respect, and when it comes to persons with disabilities, you'll need to take care not to offend unintentionally.
This means that, outside of allowing for reasonable adjustments and modifications so that the interviewee can communicate with you, you should make it a point to conduct things just as you would with a candidate who did not have a disability:
- Speak directly and maintain eye contact
- Use your normal speaking tone
- Keep the conversation on qualifications and not the applicant's disability
- Engage your applicant with job-specific queries
- Listen with care and don't interrupt
It's all about making your potential hire feel valued and showing them you intend to treat them fairly — just as you would with any other employee.
2. Change your infrastructure
Both your job application architecture and business infrastructure should be accessible for all. There are multiple ways in which the hiring process might exclude PWDs by design, and there are simple fixes your business can implement to correct these oversights.
First and foremost, your job pages and job openings should be web-accessible so that the greatest number of potential candidates can view and apply.
Applicants may have any number of common vision problems — more than 10 million Americans do, and 1.3 million qualify as legally blind. These individuals may have difficulty viewing and completing your job opening. To ensure your openings are more legible, you might try using larger fonts that are easier for those with vision issues to read. Instead of larger fonts, you can at least ensure that visitors to your job pages can hear whatever they cannot see.
Similarly, those with hearing problems may have difficulties in the interview portion of the application process (particularly with more employment screenings being conducted online on account of the pandemic and social distancing guidelines).
It's important for these potential candidates that you incorporate compatible hearing assistive technologies (HATs) that can aid them in carrying on a conversation with you.
And beyond the application and interview process, you'll want to follow all the proper guidelines to ensure your workplace is accessible to as great a number of potential employees as possible.
Maintaining a commitment to accessibility throughout every aspect of your business is critical. By doing so, you'll create a positive impression and show PWD candidates that you are serious about including them as equal members of your team.
3. Transform your culture
Finally, hiring people with disabilities requires that you strive to create an inclusive workplace culture. While this might start with sensitivity training programs, true inclusivity moves beyond mere training sessions and into proactive measures that place it at the forefront of your business's ethos. This might include:
- Mentoring and coaching initiatives for employees with disabilities
- Recognizing the efforts of PWD employees
- Celebrating the differences between your employees while remaining open-minded; setting aside assumptions and stereotypes about people with disabilities
- Becoming vocal about inclusion and ensuring others know that this is one of your business's core values
- Listening to PWD employees and incorporating their feedback on how to make them feel understood and integral to the team
By putting inclusion out in the open and showing that employees with disabilities occupy equal footing as those without disabilities, you can create a culture that welcomes all and is more likely to attract and retain PWD employees in the long term.
While the road to hiring persons with disabilities is not always so straightforward, the benefits of doing so are clear. If you haven't done so already, start taking steps to move your hiring in a more inclusive direction and closer to a reality where every qualified candidate is given an equal chance at the job openings you have on offer.