Employing People with Disabilities: It's Easier than You Think!
On December 9th, 2011, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) issued proposed changes to existing regulations for Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. If the proposed regulations become final, they will create new obligations for federal contractors to employ people with disabilities. On the surface, employing people with disabilities may seem difficult, but in reality it is easier than you might think. In most cases, you just need to tweak your usual policies and procedures for finding and employing talented workers. And if you need assistance, there are many free resources available to help, including the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
Recruiting and Hiring
Starting with your recruiting and hiring procedures, you may be able to find qualified people with disabilities through your usual methods, but to make sure you might want to use resources that specifically offer candidates with disabilities. There are several national job banks available:
- ABILITYJobs and JobAccess
- Sierra Group's One More Way
But perhaps the best way to attract talented people with disabilities is to make your workplace inviting. You can do this by making your equal employment opportunity and accommodation statements highly visible on all your recruitment and application materials and by making sure your workplace, written materials, and online presence are accessible.
If you, like so many employers, have an online application system, accessibility of your Website can be extremely important. For example, a best practice is to display the company's equal employment opportunity (EEO) policy statement in a place where a user can access it within three clicks of the primary Webpage. With this, explain to people with disabilities how they can get help using the online application system and where to get reasonable accommodations if they cannot apply online. For an online system that has forms or other unavoidable custom designs, give alternative options such as e-mail, fax, telephone, or mail, to provide the requested information.
For more information, see JAN's Tips for Designing Accessible Websites Including Self-Assessment SNAP Tool.
And finally, if you want to get a reputation as a good place for people with disabilities to work, make sure you do not discriminate in the hiring process. Some important things you should consider include designing your job descriptions to assure that people with disabilities are not inadvertently excluded, making sure that hiring managers are trained on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) basics, and not making assumptions about what people with disabilities can do based on stereotypes or myths.
For example, requiring that applicants need to be able to hear voices and alarms in a noisy environment can screen out individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing, and this requirement may not be necessary for many jobs. Modifying the job description to require that individuals be able to communicate with others in a noisy environment and to understand warning signals and other notifications assures that people with disabilities are not inadvertently excluded from applying. Accommodations for this type of job function may include modifying audible signals so they can also be detected visually. For example, accommodations may include using a color coding system when a bell is rung for certain events, adding strobe lights to alarms indicating emergencies, using a flashing light when a horn is blown, placing mirrors in areas so individuals can see from behind and at angles, and implementing a route of travel and hand signals for busy travel areas. Small changes in how a job is traditionally done can make a big difference in eliminating discrimination during the hiring process. For more information, see JAN's Job Descriptions.
A key to successfully employing people with disabilities is providing effective job accommodations. Under the ADA, a reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities. Accommodations must be considered to enable a person with a disability to compete for a job, perform the job once hired, and enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment. The duty to provide accommodations does not include removing essential job functions, lowering production standards, creating new jobs, purchasing personal need items, or providing accommodations that pose an undue hardship. For more information, see JAN's Employers' Practical Guide to Reasonable Accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
And, contrary to what you might think, job accommodations are not typically costly and in fact, the benefits of providing accommodations often outweigh what costs there are. According to JAN research, fifty-six percent of accommodations needed by employees cost absolutely nothing. When there is a one-time cost, the typical cost of an accommodation is $500. For example, a recent situation involved a federal contractor who contacted JAN looking for accommodations for an employee who had a shoulder injury. This employee was an aircraft service technician who had limitations in lifting, pushing, pulling, and reaching. He was required to lift and manipulate heavy hoses over his head. After contacting JAN, the employer rearranged the worksite so the employee could do the job with slight modifications to existing equipment. JAN provided information on reels, holders, carriers, and winches. The employer reported benefits from the accommodation, stating that "a great employee who was great at his job was retained." For more information, see Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact.
If you need accommodation ideas for an applicant or employee, see Accommodation Information by Disability: A to Z.
More and more employers are realizing that it makes good business sense to recruit and hire people with disabilities. Not only does it meet legal obligations, but also gives employers a new source for skilled and talented employees. Here are two examples of success stories:
- A veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was working for an employer who decided to move the team's office to the basement of a building. Once the move occurred, the veteran realized that the noises in the basement were triggering memories of explosions and causing flare ups of his PTSD. The employer did not want to move the entire team again, but was able to find an office on the first floor of the same building for the veteran. The rest of the team remained in the basement, but team meetings were held upstairs. After contacting JAN, the employer implemented new, low cost communication methods such as instant messaging and video calling so the team could exchange information quickly.
A store manager with multiple sclerosis was limited in her ability to walk long distances. Recently her job tasks were expanded and she needed to move throughout several workspaces during the day. The employer provided a scooter for work activities that allowed the employee to quickly move across distances throughout the store. Working with JAN and a local Center for Independent Living to locate a scooter to fit her needs, the employee was able to be accommodated promptly. Note: Independent Living Centers throughout the country are good independent living resources for people with disabilities and employers as well. You can easily find information on IndependenceFirst and others in your region.