The pandemic is transforming labor trends around the world. Millions resigned positions during the first months of 2021’s Great Resignation, and a survey claims one in four workers considered leaving their jobs by the end of that year. Judging from “now hiring” signs in restaurant and shop windows, that statistic wasn’t far from the truth. Businesses struggling to attract dedicated and qualified employees are now turning to a virtually untapped pool of candidates—people with disabilities.
“I read time and time again how recruiters have tried everything and explored every avenue but are still coming up short,” remarks Joshua Fields, CEO of The Next Steps Programs (TNS). “We have a population of individuals ready and capable of working, and we have businesses that need employees. With proper training and supports, organizations can pivot recruiting strategies, update job descriptions, and create truly inclusive work environments.”
How underrepresented are people with disabilities in today’s workplace?
As a minority group, people with disabilities are woefully underrepresented in today’s job force. According to statistics from the US Department of Labor, the employment rate of individuals with disabilities was 17.9% in 2020. In the same year, people without disabilities had an employment rate of 61.8%.
People with disabilities have broken down barriers in employment sectors across the nation. Some own their own companies and are in high-ranking management positions. The assistive technology crucial to their success is in place, so what is keeping the employment rate so low?
The barrier to employment for disabled individuals
“The main reason individuals with disabilities are drastically underrepresented in today’s workplaces is stigma,” says Fields. “Many organizations practice and promote diversity and inclusion programs. Even in these programs, however, people with disabilities are not well represented.”
Connecting willing and capable disabled people with the businesses in desperate need of employees is a win-win solution to 2021’s Great Resignation. The barrier to this solution is the stigma surrounding disability. In the minds of many employers and coworkers, disability equals lower productivity and unnecessary risk. That stigma follows disabled individuals into interviews even though the law prohibits employers from mentioning it.
This stigma is based entirely on myth. There are so many benefits to hiring individuals with disabilities, “Fields remarks. “National employment studies show that people with disabilities have equal or higher performance ratings, better retention rates, and less absenteeism than their peers without disabilities. Hiring people with disabilities is not only the human thing to do, but it has also proven to be a sound business practice for accomplishing bottom-line goals.”
Organizations are becoming part of the solution
Today’s workplaces are designed to accommodate able-bodied individuals, but the tech and creative ideas that can change this are readily available. Making this technology and problem solving a part of the workplace environment happens one organization at a time.
Agencies and nonprofits across the US are dedicated to helping people with disabilities connect with open-minded and forward-thinking employers. Enabling and empowering a minority community that wants to work happens as each business creates opportunities for inclusion. The change comes with each small move. Each hire stems the tide of resignation and changes lives.
“Times are changing, and progress will continue to be made,” says Fields, “Many people underestimate the might of the disability community. I have so much hope for the future, but that does not mean it will be easy. The greater community needs to understand the importance of inclusion for all—and that includes those with disabilities.”
Every manager who becomes part of the solution plugs an employment gap and improves the life of one individual. If that manager shares the success story with other hiring managers, the stigma weakens, and the lives of thousands of individuals can benefit.
People with disabilities are qualified for gainful employment in every sector. Where physical limitations are met with assistive technology and creative problem-solving, the only real limitations are in the minds of the people who are hiring.
“The bottom line is that the disability community represents a wide array of talents, skills, and passions,” Fields remarks. “The community is ready to dive in and get to work. We need organizations and employers to start challenging their previously accepted practices and strive to create truly inclusive workplaces.”