So far, we have explored how upcoming workforce and disability trends could impact your employment practices. But what about your customers? Ultimately, they will decide the success of your organization. What does it mean to customers when people with disabilities are visible employees in your workplace?
Over the past decade, organizational leaders have come to recognize the business case for a diverse workforce. Sound diversity practices ensure that the full range of talent is available to the organization and that all employees can contribute fully in the workplace. But even more powerful arguments for diversity can be made when the customer enters into the equation. The simple fact is: customers are more likely to emotionally connect with businesses where the employee base looks like the customer base.
Your human resource choices send a message to your customers about what you stand for as an organization—a message that may be as strong as your mission statement, your logos, or your advertisements.
Not long ago, an employer told us, "I would love to hire more people with disabilities, but I think my customers would get turned off. My customers want to see strong, capable employees--someone who they can trust to deliver the service."
Is this an accurate reading of the views of employers? Do other employers feel that hiring people with disabilities would jeopardize their customer image? Fortunately, research studies suggest that this employer’s view does not reflect the majority of employers. Studies show that, generally, employers agree that hiring people with disabilities can improve their image to their customers (Olson et. al., 2001; Gilbride et.al., 2003).
But what do customers themselves say? And how do their views about businesses who hire people with disabilities impact their choices about where they want to do business—about which businesses or organizations they want to patronize?
A recent national survey examined customers’ attitudes toward companies that hire people with disabilities (Siperstein, 2005). This survey revealed that 92% of customers had more favorable attitudes toward organizations that hire people with disabilities. Further, 87% of customers actually preferred to give their business to companies that employed people with disabilities.
How else does having employees with disabilities on board help organizations connect to their customers? People with disabilities represent arguably the fastest growing sector of your customer base—a market few businesses or organizations can ignore. Consider these points:
Gilbride, D., Stensrud, R., Vandergoot, D., & Golden, K. (2003). Identification of the characteristics of work environments and employers open to hiring and accommodating people with disabilities, Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin 46 (2003), 130-137.
Mace, R. (2008). About universal design, Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University Website, 2008. Retrieved June 3, 2008 at www.design.ncsu.edu/cud/about_ud/about_ud.htm.
Olson, D. Cioffi, A., Yovanoff P., and Mank, D. (2001). Employers' perceptions of employees with mental retardation, Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation 16(2001), 125-133.
Siperstein, G., Romano, N., Mohlera, A., & Parker, R. (2005). A national survey of consumer attitudes towards companies that hire people with disabilities, Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation 22 (2005) 1-7.
Brault (2012). Current Population Reports, P70-131, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, 2012.href="http://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/p70-131.pdf">http://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/p70-131.pdf.