Creating a diverse workplace environment has many benefits, and hiring individuals with disabilities can increase those.
“Hiring individuals with disabilities brings a multitude of benefits for companies that go above simply filling vacancies,” Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) Public Information Officer Jillian Seamans wrote. “A diverse workforce can boost creativity and innovation within a team. Staff who work for an inclusive employer often have a greater sense of employee morale.”
The unemployment rate for individuals with a disability is 8 percent, more than double the 3.7 percent unemployment rate among individuals without a disability, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This comes despite the benefits associated with a diverse workforce, including higher employment engagement, better company reputation, reduced employee turnover, increased profits, increased creativity and faster problem-solving.
The disparity of these numbers could be the result of a fear of the unknown. Many employers have misconceptions about what it entails to hire an individual with disabilities.
According to Kristen Mackey, administrator for Rehabilitation Services Administration at DES, employers often assume there will be extra expenses and or legal implications when hiring individuals with disabilities.
“We do quite a bit of that myth-busting to give folks [with disabilities] a chance to have that opportunity to interview and then to perform on the job,” Mackey said. “Individuals with disabilities… are not asking to not perform at the same level, they’re just asking for the same opportunities to compete and engage in the general workforce.”
“[It] doesn’t have to be expensive, and that’s the first thing that we hear from employers,” Sherri Collins, executive director of the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (ACDHH), said. “Be open-minded, don’t have that fear, don’t feel uncomfortable… You’d be surprised, they’re hard workers. They’re just like anybody else who wants a job.”
Both the ACDHH and DES help create employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities across the state through workforce development programs and workshops, but they are not the only organizations that do so.
STARS, an organization working to improve the quality of life for those with disabilities, has partnered with a number of companies including Fry’s Food Stores to create on-site work centers.
“We work with [STARS] at one of our stores where we allow adults who go through or are in the program and supported by them to come into our stores and seek employment,” Pam Giannonatti, Kroger Corporate Affairs Manager – Fry’s Division, said. “Individuals with developmental and cognitive disabilities deserve an equal, fair chance like everyone else. So it’s important that we open our doors to everyone, and again we’re a very diverse organization in who we hire, and it’s to ensure our workforce reflects our community.”
According to DES, investing in employees with disabilities can reap many rewards.
Seamans writes that hiring individuals with disabilities benefit companies with:
- A return on investment because individuals with disabilities tend to stay longer with one company;
- A unique experience and perspective that transforms a workplace and enhances products and services;
- A loyal customer base from their friends and families and others active in the community; and
- The ability to qualify for a Work Opportunity Tax Credit for every individual with a disability who is hired.
While there is more to accomplish in employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, Arizona is leading the way in serving the community. Earlier this year, a report published by the ANCOR Foundation and United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) ranked the state number one in serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and last year Governor Doug Ducey (R-AZ) declared October Disability Employment Awareness Month in Arizona.
“Giving folks the opportunity to be employed is really important and the value that’s added to business and employers is repeated. Their investments in the worksite is usually more so than your average employee,” Mackey said. “Being able to give individuals with disabilities the same opportunities as anybody else is really why we’re all here.”