As the public focus of NDEAM fades, I’m left wondering, why is it so difficult for people to see the possibilities and opportunities of including professionals living with disabilities in their workplaces, except for one month out of the year?
As the founder and President of WeCo, a company that is nearly 100% staff by professionals who live with disabilities, I get a lot of questions from fellow business owners and employers such as:
- How do you afford the special equipment?
- Doesn’t it take extra time to train your staff?
- Aren’t they sick a lot?
It’s difficult for me not to chuckle under my breath when I’m asked these questions, because I know that the professionals WeCo employs who live with disabilities, are our best kept trade secret. Few employers understand how little money, time and energy it takes to employ talented individuals from this demographic. Many employers also make huge assumptions about workers who live with disabilities, based on erroneous information and misconceptions.
WeCo has always approached workplace accommodation as a matter-of-fact process of doing business, and not a special program requiring funding, time an effort. This approach has yielded interesting results that bust many of the employment fallacies many organizations use as a reason not to hire professionals who live with disabilities.
Let’s take a look at some of those fallacies, and what we’ve learned about the realities here at WeCo, in relation to the questions we often get from other organizations, as listed above:
1 We can’t afford the special equipment needed to hire staff who live with disabilities.
This could possibly be true for some positions and individuals with certain types of disabilities, but in our case, we have found this to be largely not true. Why? Most of our staff work from their own computers and use their own accessibility software and devices. The only time we have entertained purchasing special equipment for our staff is in relation to extra devices, like tablets and smartphones, that they might need for a specific angle of a project we’re working on.
2. We don’t have the extra time it would take to train staff who live with disabilities.
I’m not certain where this fear comes from, but I have found it to be unfounded. As someone who has managed and trained staff from a variety of environments from sales, administration and federal grant management, I see no difference in training time between staff with or without disabilities. It is possible that employers are concerned that people who access training materials through assistive devices will take longer in doing so. In my experience most people are very accustomed to doing this and it has little, if any impact, on training time.
3. Staff living with disabilities get sick and need more time off.
Let me start out by assuring you that if your workplace culture is centered on delivering measurable results, and this expectation is managed consistently and fairly for all of your staff, you have nothing to fear. Yes, our staff members who live with disabilities become ill and periodically need to take time off to go to the doctor. But the same has been true of our staff who do not live with disabilities. In no case, whether the staff member lived with a disability or not, did I ever feel it was a mistake to bring them onboard. Ask yourself this question: am I willing to miss out on this person’s talents, insights, education and experience, simply because they might get sick?
4. Staff who live with disabilities aren’t as productive.
It has been difficult for me to remember a group of people I have managed in my career, who were as productive as the staff teams I’ve managed which included individuals living with disabilities. Sadly, I believe this is largely true due to the limited opportunities these individuals have to become employed. Not all, but many of the staff I’ve managed from this demographic, are very used to having to prove themselves and work hard to do that on the job every day. I have also managed staff who live with disabilities who didn’t work out, but again, applying consistent, fair and measurable performance measures to our teams has given us the ability to effectively manage low productivity, where ever it comes from on our team
I encourage everyone who is in the position to influence their organization’s employment practices, to rethink their hiring strategies and policies, and take another look at how you are engaging talented professionals who live with disabilities in your organization. Walk the talk of equal opportunity and don’t let fallacies stand in the way of who you hire and why.
Read more posts from Professionals living with disabilities and accessibility-related topics in WeCo’s IT Accessibility Information Blog.