The pandemic shined a brighter light on the inequities and injustices that have existed in the workplace for generations, perhaps contributing to the “great resignation” and other dramatic shifts we’re seeing today. For businesses to survive and retain employees moving forward, merely committing to work toward diversity and inclusion is no longer an option. They must hire those they’ve wrongly overlooked. That includes people with disabilities.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. As many businesses work to grow their staff, local employers must educate themselves on the benefits of an inclusive workforce. Most ignore people with disabilities and in turn are ignoring a talent pool that is not only filled with incredibly skilled, capable workers, but is also a viable, long-term solution to staffing needs and future growth.
The numbers prove it. Organizations that employ people with disabilities report improved product quality, higher customer satisfaction, greater employee retention and higher profits. For example, Walgreens reported 20 percent higher productivity in spaces where 50 percent of employees have disabilities. Employees with disabilities at Amazon sites in Washington achieved 37 percent higher work quality than their non-disabled colleagues along with a perfect safety record and better attendance. Companies such as Microsoft, Starbucks and Safeway report similar results.
But it’s not just giant corporations with significant resources that can benefit. Local companies, such as Bean Box, PCC Community Markets and MOD Pizza, are seeing the returns of an inclusive workforce. If you need guidance, the U.S. Department of Labor is a good place to start for strategies, including support for incorporating disability inclusion into your hiring and onboarding. But what may be most helpful is connecting with local organizations like ours that can work with your business individually, conduct assessments, provide a custom path forward, connect you with people ready to work and then coach you on how to continue to attract and retain workers with disabilities.
Many don’t realize that across the country there are organizations that provide dedicated job coaches and employment specialists whose job it is to provide vocational support to people with disabilities as they learn and maintain occupational skills. The job coaches and employers work together to then place those individuals in the right positions based on their interests and skillsets. Those jobs are in nearly every industry including service, manufacturing, electronics and tech. And the process is easier than you might think. In a survey done by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, 75 percent of organizations surveyed said that hiring individuals with disabilities was a positive experience, with a third saying the process exceeded their expectations.
Despite all of the benefits and the support available, only 30 percent of U.S. businesses seek candidates with disabilities. And most recent statistics showed unemployment among people with disabilities in 2020 was far higher than those without. We can change this now. If every employer joined those who have spent decades fighting for equal rights at work, we can erase that disparity for good.
Gene Boes is president and CEO of Northwest Center, the nonprofit founded in 1965 by Seattle moms who championed the country’s first civil rights legislation for people with disabilities. Today, Northwest Center is a leader in advancing equal opportunities for children and adults with disabilities, providing early learning and school age programs, employment and job placement services and vocational training.
Read more of the Oct. 27 - Nov. 2, 2021 issue.