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Putting Disabilities to Work

Great ideas do not originate with a specific race, gender, color, creed, sexual orientation or physical ability. They can come from anyone. Thus, to get the best ideas, organizations must hire a diverse mix of employees. This mixture must include people with disabilities if an organization wants to maximize all of the resources available to drive human capital return on investment (ROI) and financial performance.

Companies that invest in people with disabilities can realize gains. But the investment must go beyond representation to utilization, fully leveraging the knowledge, skills and abilities of this group and applying its talents to real business challenges. Increased revenues by way of access to new markets and improved productivity through innovative and effective ways of doing business are often the result.

It Pays to Court People With Disabilities

Smart companies already know that one way to improve bottom-line performance is to empower workers to do their best. Another is to make it easier for customers to buy and use products. People with disabilities are one of the world’s largest untapped markets for talent, and having a coterie ready to generate ideas and contribute to organizational effectiveness makes sense. According to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Office of Disability Employment Policy website, about 49.7 million Americans have a disability, which includes people of all ages. The Census Bureau says about two-thirds of these individuals have a severe disability.

In June 2010 consultant TecAccess reported Americans with disabilities control $175 billion in discretionary income. Some organizations, such as, suggest people with disabilities have more purchasing power than the entire teen and pre-teen markets combined. Further, we are an aging population, so numbers in this group will continue to rise.

Despite the size of this population, many organizations do not factor the group into strategic diversity management discussions. That may be because public companies are not required to be Section 508 compliant from a service point of view. However, companies can be found liable under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if their service access options are not disability-friendly and accessible. TecAccess says making a company website, product, software or training Section 508 compliant could protect against lawsuits and promote good business.
As society ages, diminishing vision and hearing and other related ailments are more common. Not all people who have a disability require Web accessibility, but organizations should ensure customers are not prevented from receiving information in a format suited to their needs. People with disabilities now have easier access to books and information via the Internet, and they are able to shop unassisted. Organizations can improve the quality of their lives by making the tools needed to do so more accessible.

Making the effort to promote accessibility will pay off. According to census data, at least half of all non-disabled adults have a spouse, child, parent or friend with a disability. Therefore, companies that include people with disabilities in their ads sell more products because disability touches the lives of millions of families. Corporate America and other organizations cannot afford to ignore or stereotype this market. Customers with disabilities and their families, friends and associates represent a huge market segment, and many prefer to patronize businesses that hire people with disabilities.

Good for the Market and the Workplace

Aside from attracting consumers, addressing the concerns of people with disabilities also can help retain talent and reduce costs associated with hiring, training, conflict and litigation in the workforce. People with disabilities are less likely to change jobs, which can reduce the cost of turnover commonly estimated to be 50 to 150 percent of a position’s annual salary.
Further, in some parts of the U.S., website accessibility, product accessibility and software accessibility, for example, are not just good ideas; they are the law. If a product or information is not accessible to people with disabilities, an organization could face an ADA complaint or other lawsuit.

By hiring and utilizing employees with disabilities, organizations can leverage their insight and ideas to measure the effectiveness of products and services that support employees and reach customers whose disability falls into four key categories: visual, physical, auditory and cognitive/learning disabilities:

1. A person with a visual impairment has challenges accessing content on the Web without the aid of software to read the text aloud.

2. A person with a cognitive or learning disability can benefit from the use of screen readers to present the text in a more understandable way.

3. A person with mobility impairment may not have the motor skills necessary to operate a mouse and must rely on the keyboard to navigate the site.

4. A person with a hearing impairment may be unable to access any audio content, so information needs to be available in a visual format.

Employees with disabilities contribute to an organization’s success by bringing unique perspectives, problem-solving skills and experiences to the workplace. Diverse teams that include employees with disabilities are often more creative and can help to make business more efficient and effective. For instance, people with disabilities can be tapped to develop and implement strategies to attract and retain qualified talent in similar pools, mined for insight on how to use technology in new ways to increase productivity, help to stimulate new product and service development, customize products and services for their market to increase profitability, and foster development of next-generation products and services.

The U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy highlights a number of reasons to utilize people with disabilities in the workforce. Among them is innovation. In a June Business Sense newsletter focusing on small business, the Department of Labor states that by fostering a work culture respectful of individual differences, employers can benefit from varied perspectives on how to confront challenges and achieve success. They suggest most of today’s most successful companies proudly deem diversity a core corporate value. And, while diversity is most often used in reference to differences in race or ethnicity, it encompasses a wide range of attributes and experiences, including disability.

Look Beyond the Surface

People can do extraordinary things if given a chance with the appropriate conditions, attitudes and encouragement. According to an article on, Acxiom, an Arkansas-based global technology and marketing service company, found a valued employee by looking at abilities rather than disability.

“An important member of the Acxiom team is Franklin McMurrian, a client delivery analyst,” the article stated. “McMurrian came to Acxiom more than six years ago after graduating from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock with a degree in information science. During the interview process, the hiring manager focused on his qualifications and skill set, rather than his impairment, according to McMurrian.”

Written by Edward E. Hubbard, 09-11-2011

From Diversity Exclusive website.

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