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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 that are impacting this particular group, and are missing the underlying importance that disability plays in workforce diversity.

We are more aware of the value that workplace diversity has on organizational cultures, change, and innovation, and on bottom-line 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. This article will highlight myths about people with disabilities that I believe are contributing to the extremely high unemployment rates for this group, up to two times higher than people without disabilities.

I encourage you to consider the facts and identify what you and your organization can do to close the employment gap for so many talented and loyal workers.

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, some studies show that in many cases people with disabilities perform above expectations. The disability community is a diverse group with a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and skills that if fully leveraged could be a value add for any organization. Leaders and managers need to understand that people with disabilities are no different than other employees. They bring a variety of unique skills and can provide a different perspective to help develop new and innovative ideas, products, and services.

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, insurance premiums, and workers’ compensation 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, 46% of employers (site study) reported that job accommodations had no costs. And for those that did, the average cost was less than $500. As people without disabilities, we typically think of special technology or enhanced office space as required accommodations, when in fact the most cited accommodations are flexible schedules.

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. According to healthcare.gov, insurance companies cannot charge different rates for gender differences and they cannot take your health or medical history into account.

MYTH #3

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

Employees with disabilities are required to meet the same performance standards as a non-disabled employee. Managers should use the same process and criteria to evaluate and manage the job performance of both groups. It’s important to note that while managers can expect the outcomes (or performance) to be similar, there should be some flexibility in “how” the work gets done. I think for many jobs, it’s ok to allow a different approach to accomplish a task, as long as the outcomes are sufficient.If performance issues arise, managers should follow the progressive discipline practices for their particular company.  Discuss the performance gaps with the employee, but be sure not to focus on the employee’s disability. Managers should provide clear examples of performance issues and identify ways to improve them. In the event that no change occurs after coaching or training, then employees with disabilities can be fired for continued performance issues.


Takeaway

Many people with disabilities are looking for an opportunity to learn, grow, and add value to organizations. They want to work, but are not given equal opportunities. Leaders should challenge themselves to think about the benefits for teams and organizations. In a rapidly changing world, employees are your most valuable assets. I encourage you to support disability employment and leverage the unique skills and perspectives to transform your organization.