Why are some people reluctant to hire a person with a disability?
Many people with physical or intellectual disabilities have trouble finding work — not because they cannot perform a job but because businesses are often reluctant to hire a person with a disability, especially one who requires accommodations. People with disabilities, however, have a wide range of abilities and gifts they bring to the workforce.
Many businesses may be reluctant to hire a person with disabilities, but you should not be. Hiring individuals who have disabilities can bring a range of unexpected benefits to your business.
Employment Rates Over Three Decades
By the end of 2000, employment in the United States was high. Economic growth made the country an employee’s market. Employment rates stayed above 64% for the next few years, while employers struggled to find workers to fill positions.
Although the data is somewhat inconsistent, people with disabilities aged 18 to 64 had an estimated employment rate of 56% at the same time. In the decade leading up to the new millennium, the rate of employment for men with disabilities fell while employment rates for men without disabilities increased.
Some disparity is expected because not all people with disabilities feel their skills sufficiently compensate for disabilities in the workforce. However, the numbers seem to suggest employers failed to view individuals with disabilities as a potential solution.
Employment Rates in 2020
The coronavirus pandemic must be taken into account when looking at the discrepancy between employment rates over the last year. Some people with disabilities have more vulnerable immune systems, which means regular work in populated areas makes them more susceptible to viral infections.
Nonetheless, the data for employment in 2020 certainly appears to paint a darker picture. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment-to-population ratio for persons with disabilities aged 16 to 64 is now 29.1% while people without disabilities rest between 51% and 61%, even at the lowest rates of employment the pandemic offered.
Part-time work differs greatly between people with and without disabilities as well. The data from 2020 reports that 29% of workers with disabilities work part-time, while about 16% of workers without disabilities worked part-time. However, many individuals with disabilities earn disability payments, which often restrict the hours or income the individual can earn.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. The goal of this act was to prevent the unwarranted discrimination of people with disabilities as it become clear some people are reluctant to hire a person with a disability.
The act covers many things designed to prevent disabilities from being a barrier to employment, but perhaps the two most notable items are:
- Making it illegal to discriminate against a qualified candidate due to a disability and
- Requiring businesses to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities.
The ADA does make an exception for small companies with less than 15 employees. This is in large part because the scale of these operations means providing accommodations is often more difficult than for larger companies.
Unfortunately, the data does not seem to reflect the reality this act was supposed to encourage. Precisely why this is true is a complicated combination of factors. Ultimately, the question of why some people are reluctant to hire a person with a disability is still an essential issue in the U.S. workforce. Many employers still fail to hire many applicants who have a disability.
When you make an effort to avoid bias against people with disabilities in your hiring process, you do more than follow the law. You gain access to a talent pool often underappreciated and the benefits within. You also offer valuable employment to a population that historically struggles to be hired.
Intentional Vs. Inadvertent Discrimination in the Workplace
Getting accurate, consistent statistics about Americans with disabilities can be difficult. The CDC reports that 26% of Americans deal with at least some kind of disability, but some disabilities are certainly more debilitating than others.
When employers do hire workers who have a disability, they are required by the ADA to provide reasonable accommodations to employees. This might consist of improved accessibility in the building, altering training materials, a more flexible schedule, or providing products or technology to assist with the position.
A candidate can be disqualified from a position in instances in which safety is impossible to provide or guarantee. For example, an employer would not be required to hire and provide accommodations for a person with severe vision impairment to be a pilot or drive heavy machinery. The disability must specifically prevent the job from being performed successfully or safely.
Many people with disabilities are still fully capable of performing a variety of different jobs full-time or part-time. Unfortunately, many employers hire individuals who are not disabled over people with disabilities for that reason alone.
How often are such decisions willful? Discrimination often takes place unconsciously. Imagine two equally qualified and capable candidates presented themselves to you for a position. The only difference is that one required making the building more accessible for people with decreased mobility. Which worker would you choose?
Such decisions are often made unconsciously. Many employers likely make these decisions without fully considering the options. Accessibility sounds like it will cost money to provide. This makes the person who requires no accommodations seem like the preferable acquisition, even when they are perhaps slightly less qualified than the other candidate.
Consider the positions available in your business. As you continue to explore why some people are reluctant to hire a person with a disability, remember the very wide range of physical and mental differences the term “disability” covers. Also, consider how you can include more people with disabilities in more positions in your business.
Make Room at the Table
Almost every business in America could do more to accommodate and include a more diverse group of employees. How can you begin doing this?
1. Understand what reasonable accommodations encompass.
First, realize that accommodating workers with disabilities is not usually as difficult as many people without disabilities assume. Legally required accommodations cannot cause undue hardship or a direct threat to your business, its employees, or its customers. The key word in the ADA phrasing is reasonable accommodations.
Adapting employment opportunities for people with disabilities to take a more active role in the workforce is rarely very difficult. In many cases, minimal changes are sufficient to incorporate a much wider group to work a position.
2. Learn more about disabilities, so you can understand how some people with disabilities offer a variety of strengths and perspectives.
Changing the way you view people with disabilities is extremely important to becoming less reluctant to hire from this population. Do not look at disabilities as a fault. Instead, consider the strengths and benefits different disabilities can actually bring to a position.
An individual with Asperger’s syndrome may not be a prime candidate as a cold-calling salesperson. In a position requiring attention to detail and excellent organization skills, such as merchandising or inventory, the benefits of their neurodivergence are an excellent fit.
3. Consider how the different positions in your company can be reasonably accommodated for different people.
Break down the different positions or current job openings in your store to better understand which ones might be more successfully accommodated for different types of abilities. Some positions in your workplace might not require an accommodation at all. Similarly, some kinds of disabilities might not require reasonable accommodations in the right position. Perform interviews in terms of potential abilities rather than perceived incapabilities.
Positions Appropriate to Accommodations
These general categories can provide a starting point for you to make good fits between positions and applicants with disabilities. Some general overlap may be apparent, but you can certainly see how a variety of disabilities can be easily accommodated.
A “desk job” generally entails a position in which the employee spends the majority of their time sitting in place. This often entails using a computer, answering or making phone calls, greeting clients or customers, or other general paperwork for the company.
Desk jobs can be great opportunities for people with physical disabilities. People with limited mobility, limited strength, difficulty standing for long periods of time, or other disabilities related specifically to physical movements can perform the exact same level of work as anyone else in positions requiring limited movement.
Accommodations for such positions do not have to be difficult. Lifting heavy objects (such as boxes or stacks of paper) may not be possible, and range of motion tasks may be limited.
Many desk jobs can also easily accommodate people with limited vision. Computer technology has come a long way. Many people who are blind regularly use computers with the right software and peripherals.
This may be difficult if your office uses very particular software on a regular basis, but even Microsoft Office is available to people with vision problems when you incorporate basic best practices.
Light Manual Labor
Light manual labor jobs are characterized by a distinct physical component that requires strength but is not be too strenuous for an able-bodied person of average strength. A person may be required to stand for long periods of time or lift 20 to 50 pounds throughout the day.
Many positions requiring extended standing can accommodate people with disabilities by allowing them to use a chair.
This category of work includes (but is certainly not limited to) merchandising, factory work, picking and packing, some sanitation or janitorial work, and some food service positions.
Many people with mental disabilities or developmental disabilities that impact cognitive abilities gravitate towards this kind of work. Positions can often be found that are not too complex and allow them to use their hands or muscles without being extremely physically strenuous. These jobs often have easy-to-remember routines while allowing a person to still contribute value to a company.
Some people with physical disabilities can do this kind of work with reasonable accommodations. Physical disabilities are on a wide spectrum; each person must be realistically aware of the limits of their strength.
Heavy Manual Labor
Positions that require heavy manual labor include things like logging, construction, landscaping, maintenance, mechanic work, and a variety of other careers essential to society. This kind of work demands a lot from an individual’s body. Many positions (such as plumbing or electrical work) also require certifications or apprenticeships.
Heavy manual laborers will be constantly on the move and can expect to lift more than 50 pounds regularly. This is work someone of average physical ability, without any notable impairment, may find difficult.
Many people with physical disabilities will be unable to perform heavy labor, even with reasonable accommodations. Poor mobility or an inability to sustain heavy lifting could endanger the self, coworkers, and clients or customers. That said, some physical disabilities should not be an impairment for this work. For example, someone who is hearing impaired can perform heavy manual labor, as long as signals are created to prevent accidents in the use of heavy equipment. Training may require an interpreter or written materials.
Some cognitive disabilities can limit a person’s ability to do heavy manual labor, depending on the severity of the disability and the specifics of the job. Some physical labor requires precision and the ability to react quickly. Some people with mental disabilities can perform well in those areas, but not all will.
Interpersonal work covers any job that requires one to communicate well with others. This includes customer service jobs, teaching, reception, and many more. Most people with physical disabilities are as capable of interpersonal work as someone without a disability.
There are exceptions, of course, such as someone who is hearing impaired and uses only ASL. Being unable to communicate with clients who do not speak ASL would, obviously, make a position dependent on communication difficult. However, someone who communicates only in ASL is an excellent choice for interpersonal jobs in which they work with other people who are hearing impaired.
People who deal with a mental disability are going to vary in their ability to perform interpersonal work with or without accommodations. The deciding factor is their ability to communicate, how much communication a given job requires, and what other responsibilities the job entails.
For example, a receptionist may only require retaining and communicating small amounts of information at a time. This information can also be easily typed or written down to keep the information as long as necessary. Many people with mental disabilities are more than capable of this work with training.
Other positions, such as teaching, may require an immense amount of information to be conveyed and received at one time. There are certainly people with mental disabilities who perform this work, but not all people with cognitive disabilities will be able to hold these positions.
High Expertise/Specialty Labor
These positions require a high degree of expertise. Many will require a college degree or years of experience in order to be done properly.
The good news is that, in some ways, it is easy to tell who is capable of this kind of work. If a person has the appropriate degree or required experience, the odds are good they are capable of doing the job.
An employer should be very careful before deciding a disability makes an otherwise qualified candidate ineligible for a position. While there are exceptions, there are often accommodations that would allow them to overcome whatever obstacles you imagine they will face.
Do not let good talent escape you due to a bias against those who have disabilities. Employees with disabilities don’t suddenly lose their degrees, experience, or expertise because of a disability. The only real exception might be in cases of serious cognitive impairment as a result of an accident or illness later in life.
Capitalism and Disability
There is a great deal more to making the workforce less reluctant to hire people with disabilities than simply understanding how you can best fit people to positions. People with disabilities face an uphill struggle to get work. Getting good work — even when they are qualified to do and capable of a job — is a struggle.
Why are some people reluctant to hire a person with disabilities? Because the economic society in the U.S. tends to focus heavily on profit rather than the person. Furthermore, economic viability is tethered to the potential for autonomy. If you cannot find a good job, you cannot support yourself. Realistically, most people want to work, achieve autonomy, and live well on their own means.
When a business can see beyond a disability to the candidate’s abilities, the job that follows is the beginning of economic independence. More importantly, you join the fight disabled people are engaged in for autonomy over their lives. If someone can do a job, you should consider hiring them as seriously as you would consider any other hire.
The Benefits of Hiring People With Disabilities
All of this information is essential to understanding just how much of an asset a person with a disability can be to a company. Many studies have been done over the years, proving workers with disabilities are not only equally worthwhile employees but exceed their normally abled counterparts in some areas. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of most of the benefits of hiring workers who are differently-abled is that it will save your company time, money, and effort.
One great benefit (and improves your reputation) is that people with disabilities tend to act more safely in the workplace. Two studies more than 50 years apart have shown workers with disabilities across a variety of careers have a higher performance in safety measures. Workers without disabilities are less conscious of and less careful about following safety protocols.
This prevents the necessity for temporary workers who require training, which takes time and costs money, in the event of a workplace injury. Perhaps more importantly, it keeps workers' compensation insurance rates lower when fewer employees have fewer accidents. Depending on the type of business you run, poor safety compliance can have much more serious consequences for your company.
Higher Retention Rates
People with disabilities are more likely to retain their position for longer than people without disabilities. This lowers your turnover rate and saves you the frustration of having to conduct interviews all over again when someone quits. It also saves the loss of time and associated loss of money that goes to hiring, training, and waiting for the new hire to get as good at their job as the previous employee was. Furthermore, most people with disabilities show up at work more regularly and take fewer sick days.
Tax Breaks and Incentives
The government encourages hiring people with disabilities through monetary rewards and by helping to provide accommodations. The financial cost of having to provide reasonable accommodations when your building or company is not equipped for anyone who is disabled can be a strong reason to cling to for some people who are reluctant to hire a person with a disability. Many of the tax breaks provided by the IRS to eligible companies are to make those accommodations more financially feasible, encouraging companies to hire a more diverse selection of employees.
Diversity is Beneficial to Everyone
Ultimately, people with disabilities are just as successful as people who are not disabled. Regardless, both of these populations can learn from each other. A diverse workplace teaches tolerance, perspective, and alternate ways of accomplishing goals. People with disabilities often have creative minds that are used to coming up with different solutions in a world designed mostly for individuals who are normally abled.
Considering Reasonable Accommodations
Again, cost is a big issue when considering providing reasonable accommodations. However, not only can eligible companies receive tax breaks to cover these costs, an accommodation expensive enough to seriously harm your company is unlikely considered “reasonable” under the law.
In the instances when it is reasonable to provide expensive accommodations, you may be making your business more accommodating for clients and customers. For example, what if you hired an employee with limited mobility who required a wheelchair, and the building had stairs but no ramp? Construction work and alterations can come with a hefty price tag, but not only will you get a tax break, but you have also ensured potential customers with limited mobility can now enter your business as well.
Actual Costs of Accommodations
The good news is most accommodations are not expensive by most companies’ standards. A 2009 study compared employees who did need personal assistance services (PAS) with those who did not. Employees who used PAS had a median one-time cost of $1850 and a median annual cost of $8000. Employees with disabilities who did not require PAS had a median one-time cost of $500 and a median annual cost of $2000.
The study notes, however, that these numbers disregard employees who required accommodations that cost an employer nothing to implement. An estimated 59% of accommodations do not cost employers anything.
A 2011 study surveyed companies who estimated the direct and indirect benefits of providing employees with accommodations outweighed the cost of accommodations, which averaged around $1000. These accommodations allowed employers to retain a qualified employee, increase their productivity, and (by retaining the employee) negated the need to train a new employee in addition to improving morale, productivity, and coworkers relations within the business.
Many companies are intimidated by exactly how to implement accommodations. The mistake many companies make is thinking of every kind of accommodation every person with a disability might need. This is not the situation you face. You only need to accommodate the employees you actually hire.
Consider first the employee (or employees) in question. Above all, are they a qualified applicant for the job? Furthermore, what accommodations might be relevant to their job requirements? Consider both what is essential and what would make their experience easier.
Figuring out what accommodations an applicant or employee might require is somewhat complex. It is not always legal to ask them outright, and the ADA does not require a person to disclose the accommodations they need at a particular time. You may, however, ask employees to demonstrate how they would perform a job if hired. This can address immediate concerns about their ability to perform a task.
Tips for Implementation
You are only required to provide work-related accommodations an employee discloses to you. There is no legal “gotcha” if you do not provide accommodations they do not disclose they need. You are not expected to be psychic.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has a helpful guide for employers trying to provide reasonable accommodations. You can also review the requirements of the ADA when you work with differently-abled employees. Often it is as simple as working with the employee. If an employee requests accommodations, talk to them about what they need. They generally know what equipment, software, or policy changes would help them do their job.
For requests that seem complex or expensive, alternatives are permitted. The goal should be to provide an effective accommodation that allows them to do the work required. If your alternative is reasonable, the accommodation does not have to be precisely as requested. You should also discuss alternative accommodations with the employee before implementing them to make sure the solution will work as intended.
Avoid making generalizations about medical conditions. Look at the specific needs of the employee making the request. You may ask relevant questions but do not assume things based on your own medical knowledge or, worse, myths and hearsay.
Why Are Some People Reluctant to Hire a Person With a Disability?
Knowing the benefits of a diverse pool of employees and that accommodations are not so difficult to provide, why are some people reluctant to hire applicants with a disability?
Now you know why you should not be, so if you are interested in creating the ideal strategy to recruit, hire, train, and retain candidates with disabilities, let us help! Easterseals has experience as an equal opportunity employer and as a liaison to connect businesses with veteran candidates and candidates with disabilities.
People with disabilities are just as diverse a population as people without disabilities. Tapping into a wider talent pool can make your company more successful. When you know why people with disabilities have a more difficult time finding work, you can make a conscious effort to overcome those biases.
As discussed, accommodating most people with disabilities costs a negligible amount of money. The higher the pay of a given position, the more negligible those costs will become in proportion to the employee’s added value.
Considering available tax breaks along with the cost of a discrimination lawsuit, this should almost never be a factor in hiring a qualified employee.
Difficulty Implementing Accommodations
Again, most accommodations are easy to implement. Small changes to workplace policy or job requirements are sufficient more than half the time.
Alternatively, things like implementing the use of new software or changing the format of office documents can be done in minutes or days. Bigger changes, like installing ramps, can sometimes be a challenge. This does not mean they are not possible. Many of these changes also tend to be permanent and help make facilities easier for everyone to access, including clients and other visitors.
Social Stigma and Misconceptions
In the United States and much of the rest of the world, we view people with disabilities as “the other.” It is a very human response to people who are different from you. It is also not the right one.
When you are not often around people with disabilities, your first instincts are often wrong. Those with visible disabilities often are treated as less capable and less valuable than people with less visible disabilities.
People with intellectual disabilities face similar biases. Too many people assume someone who has trouble articulating thoughts or reading emotions is weak in all areas. Most people who have a serious problem with one part of life are excellent at doing things in other areas.
The first step to combating any bias is recognizing it. Whether we admit it or not, we judge people in part through unconscious decision-making based on inaccurate intuition. When you do not recognize or acknowledge it, you cannot fix it.
If someone with a disability makes you uncomfortable, pushing past that sensation to assess them accurately is essential. What makes you unsure of their value? Why are you uncomfortable?
Sometimes there is an answer. Not everyone is qualified for positions they apply for. Being honest with yourself about your implicit, unconscious biases is the first step to stopping yourself from discriminating without realizing it.
When we judge others before knowing them, we engage in prejudice. Biases, misconceptions, and prejudice all have similarities. When you know you are holding onto biases and misconceptions and refuse to change your behavior, that is a serious problem.
To be willfully prejudiced is to accept that you judge someone without knowing them and refuse to confront that bias. If you judge people with a disability like this, look inward. Try to listen to the voices of those in the communities you hold a bias against. This kind of bias does serious harm and leads to some of the most egregious breaches of law and ethics.
See the Person, Not the Disability
Many people inadvertently learn about a disability and let that become the identity of the individual. Even people who mean well fall into this trap. When you treat someone like they are incapable of things they are certainly capable of — specifically because they have a disability — they will feel coddled or infantilized despite being mature and capable.
A disability may affect someone’s life, but it does not define them. They still have hopes, dreams, skills, and talents. A disability generally makes a small set of things more difficult; it does not make everything impossible. Many things will be as easy as they would be for someone without a disability. Sometimes having a disability improves certain skills or talents.
Even those who struggle with something like academic learning or basic motor function can often find alternatives or overcome the problems with the right support and accommodations. Our Academics, Community, Career Development and Employment Program (ACCE) program aims to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who have been let down by the “default” education system.
Many people are not ready for the workforce straight out of school. They might have basic skills, but they also have a lot of potential to do much more. Some individuals need lessons designed around the often different ways they think and learn.
Through our program, and others like it, many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities can improve their autonomy and job prospects. Training programs tailored to the challenges of the individual can help them master skills others assumed they could not learn. Do not underestimate the success and autonomy a good job can offer someone who often feels a lack of independence or control in other parts of their life.
Easterseals’ Job Accommodation Network
Easterseals HIRE Division helps people with disabilities find jobs in Central Arkansas through a job accommodation network, connecting people with disabilities to interested community leaders.
Through this program, hundreds of people with disabilities have found work and more independence. The program’s success is proof of the benefits of employment for people with disabilities and for the businesses they work for.
Vocational Rehabilitation Explained
When an employee becomes seriously injured or otherwise disabled, both the employee and the business they work for can wind up in difficult positions.
In many cases, the individual may be a less effective employee. It may even appear as though they can no longer fulfill their responsibilities. Sometimes that may be true. Often, however, with proper health care access and vocational rehabilitation services, many people can confront the way this new disability has changed their life. They can often perform identical or similar tasks.
Arkansas Rehabilitation Services and programs like it provide people who have developed disabilities a way to work and lead productive and independent lives. Vocational rehabilitation does not necessarily thrust a person back to the exact position they had before, but it does bring out a person’s new potential.
Vocational rehabilitation often includes counseling and new job training, working with specialists to restore some or all of any lost physical and/or cognitive capacity. The person who was injured and their employer can learn about the accommodations they need or could benefit from.
Almost anyone who becomes disabled or already has a disability can benefit from vocational rehabilitation. Such services can prevent a disability from taking over your life. You can learn to live and work with it, making it a part of you rather than your defining feature.
Learn More About Our Mission
Why are some people reluctant to hire a person with a disability? Unfortunately, the core reason is simply a lack of knowledge. They fail to realize people with disabilities are capable of doing great things, often with little or no assistance.
If you would like to learn more about successfully hiring people with disabilities or Easterseals’ programs, contact us today!