- Workers with disabilities provide substantial economic benefits to local communities, according to a study recently released by Melwood, an employer of people of differing abilities (the company's preferred term for workers with disabilities). The Melwood Economic Impact Study includes 25 counties in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., where Melwood employed more than 1,200 workers of differing abilities.
- Melwood said its workers with disabilities earned about $27.7 million in wages and paid more than half its workforce's $11.9 million in federal, state and local taxes in 2017. Their wages, Melwood said, created 135 jobs for people with disabilities in businesses across the region alone. The study did not take into account possible savings to local and state governments of reduced reliance on government support by individuals with disabilities.
- "This study validates the notion that all individuals, including those of differing abilities, add very real monetary value to society when they work in gainful and fair-paying employment," the report concluded.
Facing a tight labor market, employers that value diversity and inclusion could consider tapping into the population of workers with disabilities. At a one-day conference in Washington, D.C., last fall on best practices for hiring people with disabilities, experts suggested several steps that employers can take:
- Make accessibility a priority. Accessibility includes the physical environment and digital environments as well as daily business behaviors.
- Understand the value of flexibility. Leaders need to be flexible toward job functions, including re-thinking how jobs should be performed.
- Include images of people with a range of disabilities in corporate marketing materials.
- Create forums where workers, including those with disabilities, can talk about themselves and their careers. Experts say this can create compassion and inspiration.
- Be an advocate for a learning attitude. Randy Lewis, who served as Walgreen's SVP of supply chain and logistics, said at the conference that he knew his team would make mistakes when they decided to create the company's first distribution center that focused on people with disabilities. The important thing was learning from them.
While the unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities continues to drop, it still hovers around 8%, about double the total unemployment rate. The employment ratio, similarly, remains staggeringly low at near 20%, meaning employers have plenty of opportunity\ies to find ways to engage this population of workers.
Of course, hiring workers with disabilities can bring into play the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA applies to companies with 15 employees and forbids discrimination against applicants and employees who have disabilities. It also requires that employers make reasonable accommodation unless doing so would create undue hardship. Reasonable accommodations can include making facilities accessible to an individual with a disability, job restructuring, modified work schedules or reassignment, acquiring equipment and providing qualified readers or interpreters, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.