This article is part of a larger series on Hiring.
Hiring people with disabilities is an often overlooked strategy to compete in today’s business marketplace. By fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce, businesses cannot only enrich their corporate culture but unlock numerous benefits—financial and reputational—that may not be immediately apparent.
The actual process of hiring someone with a disability is quite similar to hiring any other type of employee, although there are a few differences and legal considerations.
Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of hiring people with disabilities, along with how your business should approach it and what you should consider.
Benefits & Unique Advantages to Disability Hiring
The most obvious benefit of hiring individuals with disabilities is perhaps the impact it will have on your company culture. It enhances diversity and introduces unique perspectives, fostering innovation and creative problem-solving and bringing a fresh outlook on business challenges.
That’s just one of many benefits, however. Others include:
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four US adults has some type of disability. These potential applicants make up 27% of the adult workforce, a sizable number that no business would want to exclude.
And in a related statistic, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that over 21% of current workers have a disability. This emphasizes the need for employers to be aware of and prioritize inclusivity, accessibility, and equal opportunities for all job seekers.
Not only is hiring workers with disabilities the right thing to do, but it can be good for your business. A widely cited study from Accenture found that companies leading in practices and initiatives specific to hiring and supporting workers with disabilities outperformed their peers. Known as Disability Inclusion Champions, these organizations had 28% higher revenue and 30% higher profit margin, along with increased productivity and innovation.
A diverse workforce, including individuals with disabilities, fosters increased employee engagement, productivity, and loyalty. By promoting inclusivity and providing necessary accommodations, companies can create stronger bonds among team members, resulting in reduced turnover and higher satisfaction. Employees who feel valued and supported are more committed to their work, driving the company’s success.
Actively recruiting and employing workers with disabilities demonstrates a company’s commitment to social responsibility and equal opportunity. This can result in an enhanced reputation among customers and both existing and potential employees. Surveys show that both employees and customers are attracted to businesses with strong reputations. For example, reputable businesses receive 50% more qualified applicants for job postings, and younger generations tend to place a higher emphasis on giving their business to companies that mirror their values.
Companies can also reap the benefits of government incentives. There are several federal tax incentives for businesses, including:
In addition to each of these federal tax credits, be sure to check your state and local tax agencies for any tax credits available to you.
Depending on the industry you’re in, you may be eligible for government contracts. Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires employers to be disability-inclusive. This encourages federal contractors and subcontractors to progress toward equal opportunity in employment. Without meeting these requirements, your company won’t be eligible to take part in federal government contracts.
How to Find & Accommodate Candidates With Disabilities
If you’re already familiar with the general hiring process, the biggest difference when hiring people with disabilities is where and how you find candidates, along with being aware of any legal implications.
Create an Accessible Job Posting
When you post on job sites specifically targeted toward people with disabilities—more on that below—they may provide you with options to help facilitate and accommodate applicants with disabilities. To create an accessible job posting, consider the following guidelines:
- Write job descriptions in simple language
- Structure the content with headings and bullet points
- Choose easily readable fonts and ensure sufficient contrast between text and background colors
- Offer alternative formats upon request
If you’re proactively looking to hire people with disabilities, you can reach out to local organizations. Most states have a vocational rehabilitation agency that provides employment services to people with disabilities. Not only do they help workers spruce up their resumes and apply for jobs, but these state agencies develop relationships with local businesses to connect skilled workers.
There are also options at the national level. Disability:IN is a national nonprofit organization that helps connect businesses with workers with disabilities. CareerOneStop, sponsored by the US Department of Labor, and the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion also help small businesses looking to hire workers with disabilities.
Accommodations During Hiring
Throughout the hiring process, employers should consider making reasonable accommodations and ensure that applicants with disabilities are not being discriminated against.
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits employers from discriminating against a qualified applicant with a disability. Private companies with at least 15 employees are subject to this law. It is also up to the applicant whether they disclose their disability to a company.
You may exclude an applicant from consideration of your job if they don’t meet your minimum job requirements. Just be sure you’re removing someone from consideration for that reason and not because of their disability.
Reasonable accommodation, according to the ADA, are modifications that employers can make during (and after) the hiring process. It takes many forms and is often unique to the individual candidate and their disability. Examples of reasonable accommodation might include making written materials more accessible via braille or larger print, providing sign language interpreters, or modifying interview procedures.
Let’s take a look at some common questions about providing reasonable accommodation:
Yes, companies must provide reasonable accommodations upon request from a candidate. You do not have to provide reasonable accommodations if an applicant with a disability does not request them, unless the disability is obvious.
For a candidate in a wheelchair, you would need to ensure your office is accessible (there should be a ramp to enter the building, an elevator to reach your floor, and wide enough doorways for a wheelchair). Because a wheelchair is an obvious disability, you’re required to make accommodations.
Yes, so long as the applicant requested for reasonable accommodation for extended time. Applicants can request this by any means—through a letter, email, or face-to-face—prior to taking the test. Depending on the candidate’s disability, you may need to provide additional time for them to complete the test, a modified test format, or any other reasonable accommodation that allows the disabled candidate the same opportunity as all other candidates to complete the test.
Yes, so long as the accommodation would cause your company an undue hardship. When thinking about what constitutes an undue hardship, consider how difficult or expensive it would be to accommodate the candidate.
Be aware this does not excuse your requirement to provide an alternative accommodation. For example, if an applicant is in a wheelchair and your office is on the third floor of a building without an elevator, installing an elevator would be unreasonable; offering to hold the interview on the first floor would not be unreasonable.
Evaluate Candidates Fairly
To evaluate all candidates fairly and avoid discrimination based on disability, consider the following:
- Concentrate on each candidate’s relevant experience, skills, and qualifications for the role, assessing whether the candidate can perform the essential functions, with or without reasonable accommodation
- Use a structured interview process to ensure everyone is treated the same
- When possible, include individuals with different backgrounds and perspectives on your interview panel to minimize potential bias
What to Do After Hiring a Person With a Disability
There are a couple of steps to take after hiring people with disabilities to ensure a smooth transition into your workforce, most of which are tied to making accommodations for the candidate.
- Initiate a conversation about accommodations: Proactively ask the candidate if they require any reasonable accommodations to perform their job effectively. This demonstrates your commitment to supporting employees with disabilities and encourages open communication.
- Engage in an interactive process: Work collaboratively with the candidate to determine the appropriate reasonable accommodations based on their specific needs. Be open to suggestions from the candidate, as they’re likely to have valuable insights into what will be most effective for them. Remember, however, that you’re not required to do exactly as they ask, especially if the requested accommodation would create an undue hardship for your company.
- Document agreed-upon reasonable accommodations: Once you’ve determined the necessary accommodations, document them in writing to ensure clear communication and understanding between the employee and the company. This also serves as a record of your efforts to comply with reasonable accommodation legal requirements.
Considerations Upon Hiring People With Disabilities
Once you’ve hired a person with disabilities, make sure you’re aware of what you can do to support them in your workplace. This includes adhering to legal considerations and taking actionable steps to keep your workplace safe and inclusive.
Here’s the takeaway: when employing a person with disabilities, you need to ensure they are able to do the job you hired them to do by offering them reasonable accommodations that do not create an undue hardship or unreasonable financial burden to your company. This is completely unique to the situation—it is encouraged to have an open and honest discussion with your new employee about what they need and what you can provide.
How do you know if you need to provide a new employee with accommodations? To understand a new employee’s disability and what you can do to support them, you’ll need to inquire. It’s best to avoid asking potentially illegal questions, such as if the employee has previously filed for workers’ compensation or taken an extensive amount of sick leave. Here are some questions you can ask:
- Do you have any disability that would interfere with your ability to perform the job you’ve been hired to do?
- Do you have difficulty breathing or have any conditions that cause breathing problems?
- Do you have any medical issues that we need to be aware of to take action if symptoms appear during work?
- Are you currently taking any prescription medication?*
- Are you or have you ever been treated for mental health problems?*
*Pay special attention to the last two questions. While these questions are permissible if they are directly related to someone’s ability to do the job, we don’t recommend asking them unless you have a very good reason to. If you hire a forklift driver and they take medication that makes them drowsy, that’s certainly something you want to know and should ask about. Only in similar situations should you even consider asking these questions, as they come very close to potentially violating employment laws.
Under no circumstances should these questions be asked before you extend a job offer. Also, be sure that you ask these questions of all new hires, not just those who you suspect may have a disability.
During the interview process and after making a hire, there are several laws that will impact your relationship with an employee with disabilities. Besides what’s discussed above, here are a few more related items to consider.
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): The FMLA requires eligible employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for certain family and medical reasons, including a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform their job. Employees with disabilities may be eligible for FMLA leave for their own serious health condition or to care for a family member with a disability.
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): The EEOC is the federal agency tasked with enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, including the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. Employers should be familiar with the EEOC’s guidance on disability discrimination, reasonable accommodations, and related topics.
- State and Local Laws: Many states and localities have their own laws prohibiting disability discrimination and requiring accommodations for workers with disabilities. Some states and cities even require additional protections and time off, both paid and unpaid, for workers with disabilities. Make sure you’re familiar with the laws where your business is located and where your employees work, if they work remotely.
Adapting Company Policies
To create an inclusive and accommodating environment for candidates and employees with disabilities, companies must adapt their policies and practices in various areas. Here are some examples of how to modify your business policies to support workers with disabilities.
- Recruitment and Hiring: Companies should ensure their recruitment process is accessible to candidates with disabilities. This includes creating accessible job postings, providing alternative ways for candidates to apply, and offering accommodations during interviews, as outlined above.
- Physical Accessibility: Modifying the workspace to accommodate individuals with mobility impairments, such as installing ramps, widening doorways, or providing adjustable desks, is crucial to ensuring accessibility. Companies can also ensure common areas like break rooms and restrooms are accessible to all employees.
- Technological Solutions: Implementing assistive technology to support employees with disabilities, such as screen readers, speech-to-text software, or ergonomic equipment, supports your team. Companies should consult with individual employees to identify the specific tools they need to effectively perform their jobs.
- Flexible Work Arrangements: Offering remote work options or flexible schedules to accommodate employees’ unique needs and preferences can support employees with disabilities by giving them the opportunity to work when and where is best for them.
- Performance Management and Career Development: Ensuring company performance evaluations and promotion decisions are fair and equitable for employees with disabilities ensures fairness at work as well as compliance with anti-discrimination laws. Adjusting these policies may involve setting realistic expectations, providing regular feedback, and considering accommodations when evaluating performance.
- Leave Policies: You may need to review and update leave policies to accommodate employees with disabilities, particularly those who may require more frequent or extended periods of time off because of medical treatments or flare-ups of chronic conditions. This may involve offering additional paid or unpaid leave, allowing employees to use sick leave for disability-related reasons, or providing flexible options for employees to make up missed work hours.
Do’s & Don’ts
Here are some tips to keep in mind to foster a more inclusive workplace for your new hires:
|Learn about the worker’s disability to support them with equipment needed to do their job||Put too much on their plate (understand their limitations based on their disability)|
|Make necessary and reasonable accommodations||Underpay|
|Prepare for when the worker is unable to work (who takes over their duties)||Treat them like a child|
|Allow employees to express themselves||Leave them out of a team or company activity|
|Show appreciation without being demeaning||Ignore them|
|Assume competence||Terminate them because of their disability|
Real Success Stories
Many small and large organizations recognize the positive impact of a diverse workforce, including those with disabilities. Here are some notable examples:
Disability hiring has many advantages for your company and the rest of your team. The hiring process isn’t all that different from hiring any other employee—just be aware of your legal requirements relating to reasonable accommodations. Ultimately, you have lots to gain by employing people with disabilities.