Why? According to the CDC, 61M Americans (24.6%) of Americans aged 18-64 have a disability. In fact, 30% of college educated millennials have a disability according to the Center for Talent Innovation.
I thought you said 20% of Americans have a disability, now it is higher?
Yes, data collection is getting better, people are becoming more comfortable disclosing their disabilities and as our nation’s population ages, we get more disabilities.
But regardless of the reasons, the statistics are indisputable, there is a large number of people with disabilities in the US.
But can people with disabilities work?
Yes, people with disabilities can work. The term disability just means they have a condition that causes some barriers, but rarely does it prevent them from working.
Well, why are the odds high that a job candidate has a disability?
Two reasons – 1. There is a much higher unemployment rate for people with disabilities (I am going to refer to them as pwd for the rest of this conversation). And this is because of several factors: shame/stigma about their condition, a long history of employment discrimination (due to naiveté and sometimes unintentional bias), and lack of access to opportunities. 2. The best data sources about who has “a disability” and who doesn’t are not good at capturing the full spectrum of pwd and so the data sources that say 30-40% of job seekers have disabilities is significantly undercounting some of the largest groups of people with disabilities. The current tools do not account for people with mental illnesses, Autism, most brain injuries, autoimmune or other health conditions (like diabetes, migraines and heart disease).
So, how can we benefit from this information?
Recruiting pwd is not the same as recruiting people from other “diversity” segments. You need outreach and systems that remove untended barriers. Communication should be clear that a person’s disability is not an indication of their talent and value in the workforce. But this can’t just be words on a page, it has to be reflected in culture and all manners of communication. Unfortunately, because roughly 70% of disabilities are not obvious and 80% of pwd do not access employment services geared specifically for pwd, you need to make very intentional efforts in communications and systems to ensure the doors are held as wide open as possible and that you welcome people who do things differently.
Can you give me some examples?
Sure, so at Walgreens, we created a “different door” that allowed some pwd to bypass the traditional interview process and simply demonstrate they could do the job over a period of time (a combination of temp to perm and on the job training employment models). At other companies, we promoted the use of job coaches and additional supports to facilitate training, or created pre-hire training. Most companies need to help managers and co-workers become comfortable with interacting with people who are different and almost all companies need help ensuring that their HR systems are accessible and welcoming to everyone. Unconscious bias is the most challenging aspect of change management and takes intentional effort to help your workforce become disability inclusive.
It is not difficult! The efforts are simple but require a plan, intention and vigilance. We use a method of Assess, Plan, Prepare, Execute, Adjust, Replicate and Sustain so that a disability inclusive workforce APPEARS™. The return on this investment comes through better retention, safety, engagement, stability, and management practices; as well as improving compliance, brand and social impact. And all of those lead to better profitability.