Jim Hasse on The Misconceptions of Hiring Employees With Disabilities

The following is a guest post from Jim Hasse, editor and compiler of Perfectly Able, on the common misconceptions of hiring employees with physical disabilities and why believing them can hurt your company.

Four Misconceptions About Job Applicants With Disabilities

There are four misconceptions about job applicants with disabilities that seem to have a life of their own despite empirical data which shows they are false. These false assumptions are:

1. Job applicants with disabilities lack business experience.
2. Competence declines among people who acquire age-related disabilities.
3. Employees with disabilities accumulate more sick leave and have a greater turnover rate than the average employee.
4. Business travel is not practical or needed for employees with disabilities.

Let’s examine each of these misconceptions.

Lack of Business Experience

Many people with disabilities could very well possess extensive business experience, even though their resumes may look slim from a traditional-job perspective.

Take a closer look at their resumes. They may have been in business for themselves or have volunteered their time in for-profit and non-profit organizations.

More than four of 10 respondents to the first-ever national study of self-employed people with disabilities said they chose the entrepreneurial route because they “needed to create their own job.” A similar number also said they had chosen self-employment with its flexible hours and working conditions “to accommodate a disability.”

These are just two findings from a study conducted by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research’s Research & Training Center on Rural Rehabilitation Services, connected with the University of Montana-affiliated Rural Institute on Disabilities.

“Research has shown that there are nearly as many people with disabilities who own their own businesses as those who work for federal, state, and local governments combined,” says Rural Institute research director Tom Seekins.

Volunteering is another avenue people with disabilities often use to gain business experience. Most motivated individuals with a disability will manage to land internships during college, but, upon graduation, internships are generally not available. Outside of “normal” employment, that leaves volunteering as one of the few avenues they have after college for developing their skills and proving themselves on the job.

After college, job candidates with disabilities also often endure long job searches or stretches between jobs. Some use volunteering as one of their job search strategies to widen their contacts with people who have varying experiences, backgrounds and lifestyles. Others volunteer so they can fill in chronological gaps in their resumes.

Failing Competence at the Onset of Age-related Disability

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging, the myth of failing competence in older persons is based on an anachronistic picture of the world of work based on industrial and other physically demanding labor.

In “Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else,” Geoff Colvin writes, “Studies in a broad range of domains … show consistently that excellent performers suffer the same age-related declines in speed and general cognitive abilities as everyone else – except in their field of expertise.”

In other words, those who continue to deliberately practice to continually improve in their fields of expertise continue to be high performers.

So, with technology creating a greater emphasis on brain-work over “brawn-work,” employers are tapping into minds and abilities which do not necessarily fail with age.

The high-tech tools of today’s workforce are extremely conducive to maintaining an older, more experienced and knowledgeable workforce. Further, the coming “senior” population represents a group more familiar and comfortable with these tools than were their predecessors.

And, despite a slow economic recovery, you will still need these older workers. Be prepared to rehire retirees who may have acquired a disability but have specific skills or specific knowledge (expertise) and can fill in because work units are chronically short-staffed.

Greater Absenteeism and Turnover

A recent DePaul study of 314 employees across several industries indicates participants with disabilities had fewer scheduled absences than those without disabilities and that all participants had nearly identical job performance ratings.

Anecdotal and survey research indicate that employees with disabilities may be less likely to leave your company than their non-disabled counterparts. For example, Hire Potential found that its placements stayed on the job an average of 50 percent longer than those without disabilities.

And Marriott employees hired through its Pathways to Independence Program experienced a six percent turnover rate versus the 52 percent turnover rate of the overall workforce.
Remember, the costs of replacing employees, including those who acquire a disability, are high. The Employment Policy Foundation states total replacement costs add up to an average of $15,000 per employee. And many people today remain on the job just 23 to 24 months, according to the 2006 Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Business Travel Not Practical or Needed

At a job fair geared to job seekers with disabilities, David was rejected out of hand by a recruiter because his openings involved travel — and David is blind. The recruiter who spoke with David was conducting his job under a misconception.

People who are blind travel all the time. There is absolutely no reason to assume that a person with a disability cannot travel on business.

If the worker isn’t given assignments that involve travel only because of his disability, he misses an opportunity to grow and (even more importantly) to demonstrate to you what he can do.

Often business travel involves sales or persuasion in some way, and such success on the road can tangibly impact your company’s bottom line. Networking done during business travel can bring an influx of new ideas, new tools, new intelligence and, potentially, new employees and new customers.

Your business traveler is a goodwill ambassador as well as a scout. An achieving worker with a disability may miss out on such an important contribution. Your company is risking an opportunity by not sending your best persuaders.

So, always challenge your personal assumptions about job seekers with disabilities – especially these four misconceptions. And look for your most-sought-after expertise, honed through deliberate practice, among the 22 million people with disabilities who are of working age in the U.S.

It could very well give you a competitive advantage.

Jim Hasse is an Accredited Business Communicator and Global Career Development Facilitator. He was previously senior content developer of eSight Careers Network, the premier social networking website for visually or physically impaired job seekers.

Tomorrow Randal Pinkett and Jeffrey Robinson share 10 game-changing secrets of success for African-Americans in the workplace.

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