Why Hire Job Seekers With Disabilities?

/ June 28, 2016

By Janet Shouse

About the Author


Janet Shouse is a parent of a young adult with autism, and she is passionate about inclusion, employment of people with disabilities, medical issues related to developmental disabilities, supports and services, public policy, legislative initiatives, advocacy, and the intersection of faith and disability. She wears many hats at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, including one as a disability employment specialist for TennesseeWorks.

Our hope is that this weekly blog will offer information you want to know, so if you have a question you want answered about employment for people with disabilities or other mysteries of the world of work, please email me at janet.shouse@vumc.org.


Businesses, whether big corporations or mom-and-pop shops, are focused on hiring good people and improving their bottom line. I think most businesses now realize that diversity in their workforce is a good thing, but too often that view of diversity doesn’t include people with disabilities.

Hiring people with disabilities allows businesses to bring an additional perspective to their efforts.

However, many employers have concerns about hiring people with disabilities. Those concerns include:

  • Accommodations are expensive.
  • The person won’t be able to perform the job.
  • The person will quickly quit or be absent frequently.
  • Worker’s compensation costs will increase.
  • Other employees may feel uncomfortable.
  • Customers may feel uncomfortable.

Accommodations: A study by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a leading source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues, consistently showed that the benefits employers receive from making workplace accommodations far outweigh the low cost. Employers reported that providing accommodations resulted in such benefits as:

  • Retaining valuable employees, as workers may acquire a disability as they age.
  • Improving productivity and morale.
  • Reducing workers’ compensation and training costs.
  • Improving company diversity.

These benefits were obtained with little investment. The employers in the study reported that a high percentage (58%) of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make, while the rest typically cost only $500.

Performance: A DuPont study that involved 2,745 employees with disabilities found that 92% of employees with disabilities rated average or better in job performance compared to 90% of employees without disabilities. Also, on average, research has found that employees with disabilities require an equal amount of supervision as employees without disabilities.

Turnover, Absenteeism and Safety: Research consistently shows that employers report equal or better safety records, turnover and absentee rates. Many people with disabilities, particularly those who have wanted to work but have long been unable to find a job, are thrilled to be employed, are happy to come to work and are happy to stay with an employer who took a chance on them. Employers often find reduced costs throughout the workplace due to less turnover and less need for retraining.

Workers’ Compensation: Workers’ compensation insurance rates are based solely on the relative hazards of the operation and the organization’s accident experience, not on whether an employer has hired workers with disabilities. A study conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers showed that 90% of the 279 companies surveyed reported no effect on insurance costs as a result of hiring workers with disabilities.

Other Employees: Researchers have found that employers report hiring employees with disabilities contributes to improved morale and productivity throughout the company. I have personally heard employers say how having workers with disabilities has increased the sense of teamwork in their operations and actually has helped retain workers in areas of usual high turnover.

Customers: One study found that 87% of customers prefer to do business with companies that employ people with disabilities, and that 92% consumers reflect favorably on businesses known to hire people with disabilities. I know that as the parent of a young adult with a disability I often see items on social media praising a company for its willingness to hire people with disabilities, and it makes me more inclined to want to patronize that business.

Lastly, there are tax incentives for businesses to hire people with disabilities. I would encourage employers to explore these incentives and take advantage of them, if at all possible.

Many of us find a great deal of satisfaction in working, in being with our co-workers, in earning a paycheck, and in being a tax-paying, contributing member of society. Across the United States, 75.5% of people without disabilities are employed, but for those with disabilities, 34.4% are. In Tennessee, the numbers are a little lower—74.5% of those without disabilities have jobs, but only 29.9% with disabilities are employed. This represents a hidden pool of talent!

My hope is that you will share this information with people you know who have the ability to hire, whether they are human resources people in large corporations, middle managers in mid-size businesses, or a woman down the block who runs her own small company.

So very often we find that people are able to find employment because they have personal connections with someone. That someone may keep an eye open for job possibilities, if he or she knows a friend or a family member is looking for a job, and thus be able to make a connection. This is true whether the person has a disability or not.

Many businesses have begun initiatives to encourage the hiring of people with disabilities, and many of those initiatives were started by parents or siblings of people with disabilities. And those businesses are finding people with disabilities are valued and valuable employees.

We have lots of wonderful resources for employers at Transition Tennessee. A video from our 2015 Think Employment Summit features four employers discussing what they see as the benefits of having people with disabilities as employees.

If you have questions about how to get involved, how your business can begin finding and hiring people with disabilities, please contact me at janet.shouse@vumc.org, and I will be happy to help!

(Next week I will share more about ways to encourage employers and businesses to discover this hidden pool of talent.)

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