People with disabilities often face barriers to employment, and the federal government has responded with programs to help them get jobs. One of these is the AbilityOne program, which oversees over $2 Billion in federal contracts set aside for companies that employ people with disabilities.
Despite these efforts, the employment rate for people with disabilities is still low. Only 19.1% of people with disabilities in the U.S. were employed in 2021, according to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report.
But recent changes to public policy may lead to positive increases in the employment of people with disabilities. AbilityOne recently announced it would end the use of subminimum wages, a practice that lowered wages based on the perceived limitations of a person working with a disability. Some experts believe this change will lead to an increase of willing workers and new opportunities for businesses.
"Many individuals don't want to work at subminimum wage jobs, and therefore have chosen not to join the workforce at all," states Tina Tyco, project manager for Bona Fide Conglomerate, a non-profit maintenance company that primarily employs people with disabilities in the AbilityOne program. "And since there has been a trend for many nonprofits to phase out supported employment programs due to not enough need or funding, this change could result in a transformation … to allow additional grants and change business models."
How could businesses benefit moving forward? Creating an inclusive environment for people working with disabilities is a simple way to diversify a company culture and possibly benefit financially from these market changes. This is a win-win situation that can begin with companies' conducting a Disability Assessment of their hiring process.
How to Conduct a Disability Assessment for the Hiring Process
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. However, many employers neglect to conduct a disability assessment in their hiring process. This can create unintentional discrimination, reduce opportunities for people with disabilities, and create an inhospitable workplace culture. Here are some tips on how to conduct an assessment:
1. Determine the essential functions of jobs in the workplace. Essential functions are tasks to the job and cannot be removed or modified.
2. Identify any potential accommodations that would allow an individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job.
3. Choose an accommodation that is effective and efficient, and provides the individual with the best opportunity to succeed in the job.
4. Be sure to document the accommodation in writing and keep it on file in case it is needed in the future.
These simple steps can ensure that a company is meeting its legal obligation to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, while also ensuring that the hiring process is fair and effective. When companies include this information in their job postings, they will likely receive additional applicants.
There are many benefits for businesses who are able to accommodate an employee with a disability. Businesses may be able to take advantage of tax incentives. But more importantly, companies can receive more dependable employees, which improves morale and productivity within the workplace.
"'Slow and steady wins the race' is almost always the best way. And since their job is a source of pride for them, knowing they are working just like anyone else - that makes (people with disabilities) feel empowered," Tina notes.
Making reasonable accommodations in the workplace for people with disabilities can enrich company culture and provide financial benefits. The bottom line is that accommodating the needs of qualified individuals with disabilities is not only the right thing to do, it makes good business sense.