As the founder and President of a company that is nearly 100% staff by professionals who live with disabilities, it’s not uncommon for me to 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?
Aren’t you afraid that they won’t be able to do the work?
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.
Realizing the untapped value of engaging people living with disabilities in our company’s workforce, which lead to the creation of what we feel is the ultimate accessibility testing product, meant that 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:
- 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. They have never asked us to purchase it for them simply because they prefer to select and manage their own equipment. 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. By and large, our staff know what they need and prefer to select it themselves.
- 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. OK, there might be the 4 seconds it takes for us to pull the chair away from the conference table so Chad can move his wheel chair into the room, and maybe the 5 minutes it takes to walk Nina to the rest room for the first time, but that’s basically it. 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.
- Staff living with disabilities get sick and need more time off. They are also more likely to lose their ability to work.
Employee illness and disability can be a sticky wicket for many employers, but 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. Yes, we have experienced staff members whose disabilities have progressed to a point that they are no longer able to fulfill the duties required of their positions. We have also encountered nondisabled staff who have experienced family emergencies, personal illnesses and life decisions which has ment that they were no longer able to fulfill the duties required of their positions. 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 or leave?
- Staff who live with disabilities aren’t as productive.
Another fallacy for which I would love to discover its origin! 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 teams.
In conclusion, please consider this:
People living with disabilities experience a combined unemployment and underemployment (doing jobs that are beneath their education and capability levels) rate of around 80% in the US. (US Census and the Department of Labor)
WeCo has employed people with advanced degrees who have endured years of underemployment, such as being considered only suitable for home data processing positions. We have also encountered sum laude college graduates who have relayed to us stories of actively applying for jobs related to their education and experience, on a daily basis, for years at a time, only to receive shortened interviews and a polite departure handshake when they enter a workplace in a wheel chair, with a cane or accompanied by an ASL interpreter.
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.