into a viable worker pool
Hiring people with disabilities is a win-win situation
for employer, employee
Ed Holen and Penny Jo Haney
Imagine if nearly
50 percent of the work force were unemployed. People, who are able to
work, want to work and are actively seeking employment, simply cannot
find jobs. Not even during the Great Depression did unemployment affect
every other person who wanted to work. Yet few people think twice about
this unemployment truth for people with disabilities.
Here in Washington,
we have the highest employment rate in the nation for people with disabilities,
at 50 percent. The national average is much closer to 70 percent unemployed.
We can still do much better, and now is our chance.
October is National
Disability Employment Awareness Month. With a little effort and the right
support, employers throughout Washington can benefit from hiring people
with disabilities. Itís not only the right thing to do, itís the smart
thing to do.
Employers who identify
job opportunities within their organizations and become more accessible
to people with disabilities benefit from a diversified work force; dedicated,
productive and reliable employees; an enhanced appreciation from customers
and co-workers; and lower turnover rates. Employment also helps people
with disabilities become more self-sufficient and rely less on tax-supported
In Washington, hundreds
of businesses have successfully diversified their work force and benefited
from hiring people with disabilities.
In Everett, Quality
Industrial Services, a company providing vocational and employment services
for people with disabilities, has placed people in positions including
security guards and dispatchers, and retail and customer service clerks.
People have been placed in a variety of individualized jobs as well and
in janitorial and landscaping crews that work throughout Snohomish, King
and Skagit counties.
True Value hardware
in Mountlake Terrace has long employed people with disabilities, and currently
has three employees with disabilities working at the store. Northwest
Loss Prevention, a security protection company in Lynnwood, currently
employs guards and dispatchers with disabilities. Both companies have
found that hiring people with disabilities has had a positive effect on
the employees, co-workers and the business.
Here are some simple
tips from employers that have been successful in hiring and retaining
talented employees with disabilities.
- Evaluate attitudes
and stereotypes. Typically, people looking for jobs are not pitied
or patronized or called heroes or labeled as brave for seeking employment.
Yet for many people with a disability this is a regular occurrence.
Often, the hardest barriers for people with disabilities to overcome
are other peopleís attitudes and stereotypes. When hiring, give the
person an opportunity to demonstrate his or her skills and abilities
the same way you would any applicant or employee.
- Get the facts
and donít make assumptions. Myths or assumptions are also major
barriers to employment. For example, some employers think their workersí
compensation insurance will increase if they hire someone with a disability.
Not true. Insurance rates are based solely on the hazards of the operation
and the organizationís accident experience, not on whether workers have
disabilities. Another frequent assumption is that people with disabilities
do not have the needed training or education. In fact, many people have
college degrees and/or extensive trade experience making them fully
- Make sure
your company is accessible. This means more than wide doors and
ramps. It also means making sure job postings and promotion opportunities
are accessible to people with disabilities. Forms and applications should
be within reach and interview locations fully accessible. Most importantly,
do not assume accessibility will create a financial hardship. Visit
the U.S. Office of Disability Employment Policy (www.dol.gov/odep)
and JobAccess (www.jobaccess.org)
for success stories achieved inexpensively.
- Write job
descriptions for all positions. Written job descriptions identify
essential job functions and help applicants identify jobs for which
he or she would be qualified and enjoy.
- Set standards
and expectations. Many people believe individuals with disabilities
receive special treatment and unfair advantages. Be fair and responsible,
but do not lower standards or expectations simply because someone has
a disability. The purpose of accommodations is to enhance an individualís
ability to accomplish work tasks, not to lower expectations.
- Make a company-wide
commitment. The best employment success stories are always found
in companies where the president, CEO or owner is publicly committed
to hiring people with disabilities.
- Get connected
with people who can help. Several organizations throughout Washington
can help business owners and human resource personnel recruit, interview,
hire, train and retain skilled employees with disabilities. Contact
the Washington State Developmental Disabilities Council (www.ddc.wa.gov)
at 800-634-4473 or Rehabilitation Enterprises of Washington at 360-943-7654
or by e-mail to email@example.com.
Ed Holen is the executive
director of the Washington State Developmental Disabilities Council. Penny
Jo Haney is the executive director of Rehabilitation Enterprises of Washington.
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