How to Hire People with Disabilities (and Why It’s Smart!)

America’s post-pandemic recovery offers a unique opportunity for employers to create an inclusive workplace.

Workers sit at a conference room table. One man at the table is in a wheelchair.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

We’ve all heard about labor shortages these days, but companies looking to hire good people should make sure they’re not overlooking an untapped source of qualified workers: People with disabilities.

The theme of this fall’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) was “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion.” Whether related to such issues as mobility, cognition, hearing or vision, 61 million adults in the U.S. (opens in new tab) have a disability, and many of them are having difficulties finding work. Last year at the height of the pandemic, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities increased from 7.3% to 12.6% (opens in new tab), as compared to a jump from 4.4% to 7.9% (opens in new tab) for those without a disability.

In this post-pandemic labor market, hiring managers can make a greater effort to hire those with disabilities. Organizations can now make strides to close the disability employment gap and create a more inclusive workplace, especially as the nation looks to recover economically from the pandemic.

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Not only is it the right thing to do, but inclusive hiring can be a smart move for businesses. Living and working with a disability every day speaks to the perseverance and willingness of these individuals to work hard and perform well. In fact, hiring managers who supported workers with disabilities saw a 90% increase (opens in new tab) in employee retention, highlighting the positive impact they can have on the overall work environment.

Employers looking to hire more inclusively can start by focusing on the skills and perspectives these prospective new hires bring to the table. To prioritize the employment of more individuals with disabilities, employers need to:

  • Increase awareness of the value these workers bring.
  • Make sure there are programs in place to support them during and after hiring.
  • And foster a more inclusive company culture among all employees.

What Employers Can Do

One of the primary obstacles keeping individuals with disabilities from being hired is employers’ lack of knowledge regarding these applicants’ capabilities and motivations to work. Despite common misconceptions, many of these individuals are eager to return to work and are capable of doing the job just as well — or better — than a candidate without a disability.

Any employer who’s serious about creating a more inclusive workplace needs to take steps to put programs and plans in place to accommodate the needs of all employees, including those with disabilities. The easiest way to do this is by understanding the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for providing reasonable accommodations (opens in new tab) to individuals with disabilities as they join the workforce. While that may sound daunting, these accommodations could be as simple as:

  • Providing reserved parking.
  • Allowing a flexible work schedule.
  • Adding a key piece of software or equipment to your workplace.

Company leadership, managers and HR should collaborate in order to better understand the accommodations related to the person’s disability, not under the guise of receiving special treatment, but for the clarity that comes with seeing how the person can meet the tasks and responsibilities of the job. If their needs include specialized equipment or a computer program to assist them, it is beneficial to make sure these are available to the employee from day one.

How to Create an Inclusive Company Culture

It’s vital that employers focus on the development of an inclusive company culture, one that supports existing employees and enforces those values in a way that will encourage future applicants with disabilities to apply. Part of this process could be an emphasis on solidifying company values that revolve around diversity and inclusion, and engaging employees in discussions about their different experiences and how their backgrounds have contributed to their success in the workplace.

The creation of an inclusive environment should start as early as the pre-hire process by including language that emphasizes interest in diverse candidates, and continue through the applicant screening and interview processes. It should be entwined in every aspect of hiring right through to the onboarding process and everyday activities. This can be accomplished by encouraging employees to speak up if their needs are not met or if they notice or experience any discriminatory behavior.

Our post-pandemic recovery is an opportunity for employers to hire more with individuals with disabilities, and the process of doing so is fairly straightforward. Hiring managers must increase their own awareness of the benefits of a diverse workforce, attract and accommodate the needs of candidates with disabilities throughout the hiring process, and prioritize a welcoming company culture.

Organizations that put these practices in place will attract employees with disabilities and can use our current labor market to make inclusivity in the workplace the norm.

This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Diane Winiarski has 30 years of experience in medical management, vocational rehabilitation and placement services through a variety of roles in managed care, disability and insurance organizations. She serves as Director of Allsup Employment Services (opens in new tab) (AES), a national SSA-authorized Employment Network (EN), and oversees AES experts providing specialized help to people with disabilities who are returning to work through the Social Security Administration’s Ticket to Work (TTW) program.