Disability employment has moved to the front of business talk these days. We are facing what could be the largest labor shortage in recent history, so there’s been much discussion about the roughly 80% unemployment rate of people living with disabilities coming to the rescue. Despite all this, the disability employment rate remains largely unchanged. It’s important to understand why, so we can move forward.
What I’m talking about is beyond the obvious issue of an employer being worried that they can’t afford to make disability accommodations. It’s about a system that doesn’t work the same way it used to in supporting candidates who live with disabilities. It’s also about the way most of us who employ people approach the candidates we interview who are differently-abled.
What’s Changed in Disability Employment?
Funding for state agencies and nonprofits who provide vocational rehabilitation services is provided under a different set of requirements. Not all organizations meet these requirements. To a large degree, the funding is given to organizations that integrate their clients into conventional workplaces versus sheltered workplaces. The funding sources also honor different types of employment, such as starting a business.
This means that there are fewer job prep and placement organizations. In some cases, the agencies continue doing the work, but generate their own funding. Some I’ve spoken with personally told me that they have had to decrease the scope of their employment placement offerings as a result. I am aware of some organizations who are doing this work through community volunteers.
These changes could herald an evolution in disability employment that’s more inclusive and tailored to the needs of the individual. But, like any form of change, the transition can be bumpy. Not just for the job seekers, but for employers as well.
Changing Your Approach and Thinking to Be Inclusive
Based upon our experiences at WeCo, we’ve found three primary reasons why disability employment is struggling. As a Leading Disability Employer, we’ve included the solutions we apply to help change this.
One: Provide basic skills on job application and interviewing for candidates.
What was being done by vocational rehabilitation organizations is now not being done nearly as often as it was in the past. Remaining programs are (at least in part) leveraging volunteer assistance, which may not yield the same results as it did in the past.
WHAT WE DO/YOU CAN DO TO SOLVE THIS: At WeCo, are working on ways to educate the many candidates we interview who live with disabilities on how to prepare for job interviews with us. This includes information on our website covering the “basics” of how to apply and interview with us. We distribute this information to individuals at job fairs and other events. We’ve even begun holding our own career workshops.
Two: Don’t focus disability employment efforts solely on entry and low-level roles.
So often, when we speak with other organizations who are beginning disability employment efforts, the discussion centers on “which warehouse” or “which phone center” they will place candidates. I believe that this is because most employers approach disability employment by looking at the person’s disability first, and their talents second.
WHAT WE DO/YOU CAN DO TO SOLVE THIS: At WeCo, our company mission means that we view disabilities as a skill set, not an obstacle that needs to be overcome (read our company story). All of our candidates are viewed as persons bringing talent to our table. We review their resumes and experience. Because many candidates we encounter have had markedly fewer job opportunities, we equate volunteer work to job experience. We then match the person’s skills and aptitude to our open positions. It’s only when the offer has been accepted by the candidate that we begin to discuss how to accommodate their disability in their work with us.
And might I add that we’re a tiny company. If we can approach placement and accommodation this way, so can you.
Three: Challenge the concept that people with disabilities can’t manage others.
No one is saying this out loud, but many of us who live with disabilities and have worked in other organizations encounter an unspoken view that we aren’t management material. I think it goes hand-in-hand with the point above.
WHAT WE DO/YOU CAN DO TO SOLVE THIS: At WeCo, we look at aptitude in addition to experience. Some of the best managers we’ve had at WeCo were people who had never managed teams before. When we see that someone has management skills, we groom them by using a “Lead Worker” team structure in which they delegate work to others without having to assume full management responsibility. They gain experience and we figure out if they can take on more.
The results are pretty stunning. All of our management positions, except one, are currently filled by a person with a disability. I have observed that our managers tend to have great leadership qualities not always present in the formally trained, experienced managers I’ve worked with in the past. They are humble, insist on shouldering the responsibilities for the team rather than laying blame, and lead by example in ways I’ve never witnessed before.
Learn more about disability employment
We hope that this article serves as both an education and a potential road map for your organization to engage viable candidates who live with disabilities.
If you want to learn more about how WeCo (a company founded and staffed by digital technologists who live with disabilities) approaches recruiting, hiring, and management, you can look into the resources listed below. You can also feel free to reach out to our Operations Team at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-849-5050 x 2.
Blog Articles by WeCo Staff Who Live With Disabilities
Other WeCo Resources
WeCo’s Accessibility Blog gives you “bite size” education on digital accessibility that can be applied to inclusion employment.
Our Workshops and Webinars are also a great place to learn more about digital accessibility and inclusion for your organization.