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How We Can Increase Employment Opportunities for People With Disabilities

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As of March 2016, the unemployment rate in the US for individuals with disabilities was 10.8 percent, while the unemployment rate for people without disabilities was 4.9 percent. Furthermore, only 19.9 percent of people with disabilities participated in the labor force, as opposed to 68.6 percent of people without disabilities. (Source: United States Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy.)

As the managing director of Tangram Business Resourcing, a disability-inclusion consulting arm of disability service provider Tangram, I consider myself on the front lines of this phenomenon. I wonder — why aren’t more people talking about this? If this were any other group of people, say women or people of color, it would certainly be a major topic of conversation.

While we have undoubtedly seen an uptick in studies on disability inclusion and its benefits for businesses, the numbers above show that there is still work to be done.

As someone who works with both individuals with disabilities and businesses, I have a unique perspective on the current state of employment for people with disabilities. To my mind, there are two sets of barriers that prevent qualified individuals with disabilities from finding competitive employment — real barriers and perceived barriers.

One real barrier that I encounter frequently is transportation. A person might be a great match for an opening at Business A, but what happens if the person relies on public transportation and the job isn’t near a bus stop or on a subway line? Some possible solutions might include carpooling or rideshare services—is there a coworker that lives near the person and could provide transportation, or is the person able to use a service like Uber or Lyft? Is there a service available specifically for people with disabilities? Some cities may have a service associated with their public transportation that allows individuals with disabilities to schedule rides and pay reduced fares.

Additionally, people with disabilities may lack the resources to get connected to employment, or may not have the type of support they need to be successful in their jobs. That is why Tangram launched Workforce Accelerator, a job-matching database specifically for individuals with disabilities and veterans, and why we work closely with businesses to help them recruit, hire, and retain qualified employees with disabilities.

In providing consultation and training to businesses on disability inclusion, we find that their barriers to hiring a more diverse workforce are mostly perceived. Many businesses believe that hiring people with disabilities is a charitable thing to do, but that it doesn’t have any business advantages. Businesses are often worried about the cost of accommodations and training, and they have fears and stigmas about hiring people with disabilities, believing that the individuals they hire will have more absences, will cause insurance costs to increase, and will be less productive. We also frequently encounter preconceived notions about what constitutes a disability, with many businesses believing that all disabilities are visible. The reality is that there is a wide range of disabilities — some visible, some invisible, some physical, some intellectual.

Fortunately, several studies have shown that hiring qualified individuals with disabilities is actually very beneficial for businesses in a variety of ways. A study of Walgreens’ distribution centers by the American Society of Safety Engineers found that workers with disabilities had a turnover rate 48 percent lower than that of the non-disabled population, with medical costs 67 percent lower and time-off expenses 73 percent lower.

There is also a good chance that businesses who hire individuals with disabilities will experience a growth in their customer base, as 92 percent of consumers view companies that employ people with disabilities more favorably than those who do not. In case this isn’t enough, hiring people with disabilities has also been proven to improve corporate culture by increasing morale.

The most common response I get from businesses who have hired individuals with disabilities is that they are highly satisfied by these hires, realizing that this is an untapped workforce proven to have fewer absences, lower turnover, and brand loyalty. Most businesses just need the proper education, training, and support to launch successful disability inclusion initiatives. If a business has built a culture of inclusion with help from consultants like Tangram Business Resourcing, they are sure to succeed and reap the benefits of an inclusive workforce.

Hiring people with disabilities isn’t just a nice thing to do — it’s good for business and for communities, building more diversity in our workplaces and creating more tax-paying citizens and fewer individuals who are reliant on government benefits.

I’m confident that we can find solutions to the barriers that exist for people with disabilities by providing training to businesses and individuals and creating conversation around this important topic.

Originally published: July 26, 2016
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