Why hiring employees with disabilities is good for business

Companies may be underutilizing a talent pool that has the capacity to help businesses outperform their peers.

That’s according to new research out from Accenture, which finds that employers can benefit from hiring disabled employees.

In fact, between 2015 and 2018, employers that hired people with disabilities saw 28% increases in revenue and 30% higher economic profit margins, as well as double their net income, according to the research, which was done in partnership with Disability:IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities.

“If you have a company where everybody looks the same and acts the same, you limit your ability to be innovative, to engage a broad range of people who think differently than the person next to them,” says Mary Dale Walters, senior vice president of Allsup, an employment network that helps people with disabilities find or return to work across the U.S. “The whole idea is that you can bring creativity, innovation and a different approach.”

Still, many employers aren’t looking to these employees enough. According to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor, the nation’s unemployment rate is 3.8%, but the unemployment rate for workers with a disability is about 8%.

There are three primary reasons why employers aren’t leveraging the abilities of people with disabilities, according to the research: A lack of understanding of the scope of the talent available, a lack of understanding about the potential benefits of such employees, and misconceptions about the cost versus the return on investment of disability inclusion.

What employers may not know is that there are benefits that both the company and the employee can take advantage of, says Walters, making the hiring or the return-to-work process for employees with disabilities simpler. The American Disabilities Act sets guidelines and laws for how an employer can include people with disabilities in the workplace.

Even so, Walters says, there is a concern among many companies that it is expensive to accommodate employees with disabilities. Even the word disability is a broad term and can have negative connotations that make someone think of an extreme impairment — but that isn’t always the case.

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A handicapped parking spot stands in front of an advertisement displayed in the window of the Fireworks Supermarket store in Jasper, Tennessee, U.S., on Monday, June 29, 2015. As the 4th of July holiday approaches, fireworks retailers are seeing a rise in business believed to be caused by the increased quality of products. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

“Fifty-nine percent of the accommodations you make for someone with a disability at work have no cost,” Walters says. “Above that, the average cost is only about $500 or less per person.”

Another myth is that employees with disabilities have higher than normal healthcare costs — which, depending on the severity of the handicap may be true, but not to the detriment of the employer. The fear is that those costs will impact utilization of healthcare benefits by employees.

There are 8.5 million people on Social Security disability insurance, Walters says. If they are participating in Social Security’s work incentive program, they will bring to the workplace about 93 months of Medicare eligibility.

“So an employer who hires from that population, and if that person is using the ticket to work program, they come with their own health insurance benefits,” Walters says.

Employers also can take advantage of work opportunity tax credits, a tax benefit given to companies for hiring disabled individuals from specific groups who have faced obstacles to employment.

There are strong qualitative and quantitative business cases for strong disability inclusion, the survey shows. But beyond the fiscal benefits are the creative and innovative. People with disabilities have to learn how to adapt to the world around them, developing unique strengths in problem-solving and forethought.

“Deafness is just a way of life, a lifestyle,” Joaquin Ortiz, an Accenture consultant profiled for the survey, says. “I tell my colleagues all the time, just because someone has a disability, it doesn’t prevent them from delivering great work.”

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