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October is Disability Employment Month and it’s the perfect time to think about what each of us and our organizations are doing to recruit, engage, and retain employees with disabilities. While many organizations are focusing more on diversity and inclusion, we still have many challenges and are missing the underlying importance that disability plays in creating cultures of inclusion.

We are more aware of the value that workplace diversity has on organizational cultures, change, and innovation, and on overall business results. People with disabilities bring a variety of skills and talents to the workplace—creative thinking, problem solving, and collaboration, to name a few—that are valued and labeled as core competencies for a variety of roles. In this article we will examine myths about employing people with disabilities. My hope is that we start to challenge our current thinking and begin to close the unemployment gap for people with disabilities.

Myth #1

Employees with disabilities have lower job performance than employees without disabilities.

Studies have shown that people with disabilities perform comparably to their peers without disabilities. In fact, many cases state that people with disabilities perform above expectations. Change starts at the top, but middle managers also need to be more aware of the topic to address potential biases that are impacting the recruiting process and the ability to create inclusive environments. Both of these factors are important to fully engage employees with disabilities and set them up for long-term success.

There’s an old saying: “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” Companies should be firm and hold employees accountable for business goals, but should also be flexible and allow for different approaches to achieve the goal. I encourage leaders and managers to think about how they can support employees with disabilities and provide what’s needed to do their jobs. It is only through inclusive cultures and authentic engagement that we can spark new and innovative ideas.

MYTH #2

Hiring people with disabilities is costly for organizations.

As business leaders, our jobs are to pay close attention to the bottom line and manage—or grow—our company’s profitability. I think sometimes we tend to focus too much on the number without really understanding the broader value that resources can bring to our companies. When thinking about the cost concerns that are typically associated with employees with disabilities, things like job accommodations and insurance premiums come to mind.

Here are a few realities we should all consider as we think about hiring a person with disabilities.

Job Accommodations
According to JAN, most job accommodations are simple and inexpensive. In fact, 59% of employers reported that job accommodations had no costs, 36% indicated a one-time cost, and 4% have ongoing annual costs. And for those that did, the average cost was less than $500.

An accommodation is an investment in the employee and there are many benefits that come along with it. Companies who are inclusive and provide accommodations may see an increase in productivity, employee engagement, and retention rates. As we know, all of these things have an impact on the bottom line.

Insurance Premiums
Corporate rates are not determined by the disability status of an employee. They are determined by a number of other factors, including age, location, tobacco use, plan category, and individual vs. family enrollment.

MYTH #3

It is difficult to address performance issues or hire employees with disabilities.

All employees, regardless of their disability status, should be held to the same performance standards for a particular role. Managers should use the same process and criteria to evaluate and manage the job performance of all employees. Clarifying roles and expectations is an important first step to ensure that your employees can meet or exceed expectations. You may also need to be flexible and allow employees with and without disabilities to decide their approach and methodology to get the work done. Flexibility is good as long as the objectives and outcomes are still attained.

All employees, even those with disabilities, can be terminated for continued performance issues. If performance issues arise, managers should follow the steps for progressive discipline for your organization. If these are unknown, consult your Human Resources department to learn about the process. Just like other employees, those with disabilities deserve a chance to improve performance on the job. Managers should be open and honest about strengths and performance gaps. In your conversations, focus on the objective and performance issues and DO NOT focus on the employee’s disability. Be sure to provide concrete examples and come up with realistic and measurable solutions for the employee to improve.


Takeaway

In a rapidly changing world, employees are your most valuable asset. Employees with disabilities have disproportionate unemployment rates compared to other groups. They want to work and see employment opportunities as critical for success and survival. Many want an opportunity to learn, grow, and add value to your organization. Leaders and managers should challenge themselves to think about the benefits for the organization and its internal teams. It is becoming increasingly important for organizations to include and leverage diverse skills and perspectives. Employing and including people with disabilities is essential as we continue to grow and compete in the marketplace.