Disability Hiring Dominates the News

By , July 5, 2013

The media world has been alit with stories of how people with disabilities are improving the workforce—bringing unique perspectives that drive innovative thinking and boosts employee satisfaction.

BusinessWeek last week profiled Walgreen’s, AMC and Hershey’s, where company leaders gave a multitude of reasons for hiring people with disabilities. In the article, Disabled Recruited From Walgreen to AMC, it’s clear that large businesses are “thinking beyond the label” when it comes to hiring.

At a Walgreen’s distribution center in Anderson, South Carolina, around 40% of the 500-employee workforce is comprised of people with disabilities, including people with Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. Walgreen’s revealed that employee turnover at the distribution center over three years was 48% less for those reporting a disability and productivity was roughly equal.

AMC also works to hire people with disabilities and has a partnership with the Bethesda, Maryland-based Autism Society, saying its hiring initiatives contribute to building a “healthier company” across a variety of perspectives: Innovation, engagement, morale, productivity,” Keith Wiedenkeller, chief people office at AMC, told BusinessWeek.

It’s not just Fortune 500s that are seeing the light. An article in Entrepreneur.com features Crazy Aaron’s Puttyworld, a small business that makes silicone putty and employs more than 500 mentally and physically challenged workers through vocational centers in Pennsylvania.

During a high-school summer gig, Crazy Aaron’s founder Aaron Muderick says he noticed two distinct types of workers: abled-bodied but dissatisfied (and job-hunting) employees, and special-needs workers “that showed up on Monday morning with a smile. Muderick sources candidates with disabilities from a local dependent-care facility that provides vocational services to residents.

Assistive technology, which is projected to be a $55 billion market in 2016, also is making employment more possible for people with disabilities than ever before. The Associated Press reported last week on advances in technologies such as voice recognition and screen readers, which can synthesize text into speech and are available in many of Apple’s iOS products.

There are devices that allow people with motor-skill loss, paralysis or spinal cord injuries to control their computers with an eye gaze, or a mouth stick. The article cites Google Glass, which is capable of voice-command to allow wearers to, say, control a wheelchair with their gaze or voice.

Creating a “market” for disabled job seekers and consumers alike is one of the best ways to reach and engage this group. After all, people with disabilities search for jobs as well as products and services just like anyone else.

How to attract more qualified candidates with disabilities? Provide creative benefits to build a happier, more diverse workforce. A Think Beyond the Label survey revealed a great way to appeal to more job seekers with disabilities: Offer telecommuting—a sought-after perk for people with disabilities, especially those who might not be able to work in a traditional environment.

Think Beyond the Label also hosts online job fairs for qualified candidates with disabilities nationwide. Consider registering for the next online career fair, to be held July 30. Job seekers are encouraged to attend and network with recruiters from companies like United Health Group, Merck & Co., Boeing, The Hartford, AT&T, Union Pacific, Pearson and more.

Convincing more employers of the business case for hiring people with disabilities shouldn’t be hard. Proven lower turnover rate. Tax benefits. Costs savings. The ability to attract a wider pool of talent that values diversity as well as socially conscious business. That’s just a start.

From silicone to blockbuster movies, there’s a job out there for everyone to match his or her skills. Let Think Beyond the Label connect you to this ready-to-work talent pool, and see what the headlines are all about.

Author: Suzanne Robitaille

Suzanne Robitaille is the founder of abledbody.com, a website on disability issues. She is the former assistive technology columnist for BusinessWeek.com, giving rise to her fascination with technology that helps people with disabilities surmount barriers in the workplace and life space. She is also the author of The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology & Devices. As a writer and blogger, Suzanne is a trusted source of disability information for The Wall Street Journal, ABC News, HealthDay, Media Post, Ability Magazine, Disaboom and more. Suzanne lost her hearing at age four and grew up profoundly deaf. In 2002 she received a cochlear implant, which she credits as "the ultimate assistive technology."