When most people think about employing people with disabilities, they probably think about the law. This is understandable; disability laws do impact workplace practices.
But what about business? Though it is important to have legally compliant HR practices, simple legal compliance is not likely to be a significant source of competitive advantage. Disability inclusiveness is. Having a disability-inclusive workplace isn’t just about the law. Disability inclusiveness is quickly becoming a business imperative - a key strategy to prepare for the workplace of tomorrow.
What is disability-inclusiveness? By disability-inclusiveness, we mean workplace policies and practices that ensure that people with disabilities can fully contribute their talents in the workplace. And why does disability-inclusiveness make sense? Consider some trends that employers will need to pay attention to in the next decade…
Despite the current economic situation, a 2012 ManpowerGroup survey of more than 1,300 U.S. employers showed that 49% of employers face talent shortages in many sectors: skilled trades, engineers, IT professionals, Sales Representatives and Financial/Accounting Professionals (ManpowerGroup, 2012).
Estimates of the cost of turnover vary. Conservative measures only account for the direct costs of turnover (e.g. direct hiring costs) and are usually placed at about 50% of annual salary. When the indirect costs of turnover are included (e.g. lost productivity, lost job know-how, lost customer contacts, disruptiveness to morale and teamwork, etc.), the costs are placed at about 150% of annual salary of the vacated position (Herman, Olivo & Gioia, 2002).
Several factors contribute to this trend. Better treatments are enabling more people with disabilities to be productive in the workforce. There is an improved ability to diagnose many types of non-obvious disabilities, such as learning and psychiatric disabilities. Improved assistive technologies such as screen magnifiers, voice recognition software and text-to-voice software eliminate work barriers for many people with disabilities.
Finally, the U. S. population is aging. According to the U.S. Administration on Aging, persons 65 and older numbered 40.4 million in 2010, with an increase of 5.4 million just in the prior decade (U.S. Administration on Aging, 2011). Further, in 2008, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that, over a ten-year period (between 1977 and 2007), the employment rate for workers over age 65 increased by over 100% (U.S. BLS, 2008).
As we age, we are more likely to acquire a disability (U.S. Administration on Aging, 2011). Hence, in the coming years, as more people will be working with a disability. Given this trend, employers will have intensified on-going needs around ensuring that older workers can continue to contribute their skills, talents and experience as they age into a disability.
As a business, can you afford to dis-engage one-fifth of your talent?
Though the majority of people with disabilities can work, are qualified to work and want to work, they remain a largely untapped source of talent for employers. According to Erickson, Lee & von Schrader (2011), the employment rate of people with disabilities is about half that of those without disabilities. Yet, according to the General Social Survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center, about 80% of people with disabilities who are not working would like to work (Rutgers University, 2008).
For many years, employers assumed that people with disabilities did not have the skills and education needed to get and keep jobs. People with disabilities now entering the workforce have benefitted from the Individual with Disabilities in Education (IDEA) throughout their educational lives. Further, other laws such as the Higher Education Opportunity Act and the ADA have offered protections for equal educational opportunities in both primary/secondary school and college.
Thanks to these efforts, the gap between the educational attainment of people with and without disabilities has narrowed. A survey conducted by the Kessler Foundation and the National Organization on Disability (NOD) in 2010, showed that 82% of people with disabilities had completed high school (as compared with 89% of those without disabilities). This compared with 2004, when only 61% of people with disabilities completed high school. For higher education, 19% of people with disabilities reported graduating from college as compared with 27% of those without disabilities. By comparison, in 2004 only 14% of people with disabilities reported completing college (Kessler & NOD, 2010).
People with disabilities represent the largest untapped source of talent available to employers. A study by DePaul University (2007) comparing the job performance of employees with and without disabilities found that...
Research on the performance of people with disabilities in other organizations confirms the DePaul study. For example, research on employees with disabilities at Walgreen’s Distribution Centers found that employees with disabilities were slightly more productive than those without disabilities. Further, the turnover rate for employees with disabilities was fully 48% less than those without disabilities (Kaletta, Binks & Robinson, 2012).
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Kessler Foundation & National Organization on Disability. (2010a). The ADA, 20 years later. Retrieved from http://www.2010disabilitysurveys.org/indexold.html.
ManpowerGroup Annual Survey (2012). ManpowerGroup Annual Survey Reveals U.S. Talent Shortages Persist in Skilled Trades, Engineers and IT Staff. ManpowerGroup Press Room. (Accessed at http://press.manpower.com/press/2012/talent-shortage).
Rutgers University (2008). Press Release. (Accessed at http://news.rutgers.edu/medrel/news-releases/2008/09/people-with-disabili-20080922).
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U.S. Administration on Aging (2011). A Profile of Older Americans: 2011. Highlights. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (Accessed at http://www.aoa.gov/Aging_Statistics/Profile/2011/2.aspx).
U.S. Administration on Aging (2011). A Profile of Older Americans: 2011—Disability and Activity Limitations. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (Accessed at http://www.aoa.acl.gov/Aging_Statistics/Profile/2011/16.aspx.