Gainesville Sun: Hiring workers with disabilities brings benefits
Updated: Oct 23, 2020
By: Michelle Dennard and Tony Carvajal, Guest columnists
When the pandemic fully eases, employers will want to hire workers they can deploy quickly and inexpensively. In the rush to ramp back up, a talent pool that research has shown pays significant long-term rewards may be overlooked.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and we want to encourage employers to see the opportunity that lies in hiring workers with disabilities.
Employers may have concerns about liability, reliability, turnover and misconceptions that businesses would have to spend a lot of money to make special accommodations. Research shows the opposite is true. Workers with disabilities tend to be more invested in their employer, and therefore more loyal and productive.
The benefits spread well beyond an individual hire. Employing workers with disabilities has been shown to improve morale across a company’s workforce. It also fosters goodwill with customers, who appreciate inclusivity and representation of themselves and loved ones. One study concluded 92% of consumers felt more favorable toward companies that hire individuals with disabilities.
Many successful businesses have long realized the importance of inclusivity in their workforce. Workers with disabilities bring a unique point of view as well as their workforce talents to the job. They may identify ways to make your website, workplace and products more attractive to new customers, opening up new markets.
In a 2017 study, Harvard Business Review uncovered enormous innovative potential in hiring and empowering employees who themselves have disabilities because they excel in designing products for consumers with disabilities. The study found people with disabilities tend to be very innovative because they face (and solve) a variety of problems each day, and demonstrate agility, persistence, drive, strategic planning and creativity.
CareerSource Florida, the state’s workforce development board, and The Able Trust, a Florida-based foundation that supports businesses and organizations committed to disability employment, partner toward the common goal of disability employment.
In Gainesville, The Able Trust High School High Tech program gives high school students with disabilities the opportunity to explore jobs or postsecondary education leading to technology-related careers. Each of CareerSource Florida’s 100 career centers includes a disability specialist, who can provide individuals with disabilities access to high-quality workforce services and prepare them for competitive integrated employment.
Floridians with disabilities want to work for reasons beyond income. While work leads to independence and self-sufficiency, it is also a pathway to community, connection and purpose. And our state workforce needs these workers in its ranks.
In 2016, the Florida Chamber of Commerce reported 1.2 million people ages 18–64 have a disability — a huge talent pool we cannot and should not ignore. Our economy cannot be successful in its goal of full recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic without tapping into every single component of our talent supply.
The way we work is rapidly evolving, with people getting their jobs done in lots of different ways and places, including virtual work from home. Employers would be wise to take advantage of the disruption that has happened in work and workplaces to identify more opportunities to hire Floridians with disabilities, and to make a focus on inclusion part of your hiring and long-term growth plan.
Your local CareerSource Florida center has the expertise and resources you need to see you through the hiring and training process and can connect job-seekers with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Division of Blind Services to address accommodation and transition needs.
The future of work is here, and it is a brighter future for all when it includes employment for people with disabilities.
Michelle Dennard is president and CEO of CareerSource Florida. Tony Carvajal is president and CEO of The ABLE Trust.