The Surprising Thing About Accommodation

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In the United States, for all age groups, the employment-population ratio for persons with a disability is less than half that of those with no disability.[1]

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Flickr

Employers often hesitate to hire disabled individuals and can be challenged by the need to accommodate employees who develop a disability while employed. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires any employer with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodation for individuals with disabilities, unless doing so would cause undue hardship. A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment that enables a person with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.[2]

Research reveals the following principal barriers to employing workers with disabilities:

  • lack of awareness of disability and accommodation issues,
  • concern over costs, and
  • fear of legal liability.[3]

Until employers have some experience in hiring and retaining employees with disabilities, chances are these barriers will remain. Surprisingly, those who have ventured into the unknown and stepped up to this challenge have encountered some unexpected results.

Unexpected “Return on Disability”

Fifteen years ago, Craig Gray wrote this in an article in the September 2000 issue of Executive Online:  

"Many businesses are learning that workers with disabilities are not only meeting expectations in the workforce, but also exceeding them. Employees with disabilities are helping companies learn how to most effectively relate to customers with disabilities and their families and friends. As an added bonus, hiring employees with disabilities has provided many employers with the knowledge and experience to help lower their overall cost of time lost to temporary disabilities experienced by the rest of their staffs."

In the intervening years, while progress has been made in accommodating employees who develop a disability while employed, there has been little change in the overall employment numbers for people with disabilities. Until now. In the past year or so, a number of interesting developments have emerged that suggest some employers are beginning to recognize the value of this previously untapped labor pool.

Take, for example, this CBC video, showcasing a selection of Canadian and American companies experiencing substantial business benefits (including increased profitability) from employing a variety of disabled workers.

Disabled an Asset Not a Liability

Although evidence is growing that people with disabilities can make great employees, most organizations have not yet overcome the fear and lack of understanding that prevents them from accessing this underrepresented segment of the workforce.

Not so for tech giant SAP. They’ve put an unusual spin on the debate by actively seeking out candidates with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome for their specific talents. The company has embarked on “a global program to hire people with autism as software testers, programmers and data quality assurance specialists.” SAP is more than willing to accommodate social and communications challenges many of these individuals experience in order to tap into their often exceptional intelligence, concentration and observational skills.[4]

Once employers overcome their initial reluctance to hire (or accommodate) the differently-abled, they often become advocates, hiring an ever increasing proportion of disabled workers as the benefits become apparent. Among these employers, some of the most commonly cited “unexpected advantages” include:

  1. The additional of highly committed workers who are very loyal to the organization and have an exceptional work ethic.
  2. Increased productivity.
  3. Reduced absenteeism.
  4. Reduced turnover.
  5. Increased profit.
  6. Enhanced ability of other employees to interact with diverse co-workers and customers.
  7. Better customer approval ratings and improved public perception. (87% of those surveyed prefer to give their business to companies that hire individuals with disabilities.[5])
  8. Improved employee engagement and more supportive work environment.

Every employer wants employees with great attitudes, who work hard and love their jobs. Most employers are struggling to find these employees. The time required to fill vacancies is reaching record highs and the job market continues to tighten. Perhaps it’s time for more employers to expand their comfort zones and explore the possibilities of a largely overlooked labor pool (7 million in the U.S), who are very eager to work. When they do, according to Peter Berns, CEO of The ARC[6], employers “will get individuals who are extraordinarily committed to being good employees. They will have better attendance than your average employee, and they’ll work from the minute they arrive to the minute they leave.”[7] What's more, they'll do it with a smile.


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[1] Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary
[3] Why Don’t Employers Hire and Retain Workers with Disabilities?

[5] National survey (2006) conducted by Gary Siperstein, Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts.

[6] An advocacy organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities

[7] The Unexpected Benefits of Hiring a Developmentally Disabled Employee.

CSR: Doing Good is Not Enough

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When it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), doing good is not enough—one must also be seen to be doing good. Awareness is essential and perception is everything. For most people, the default expectation of corporations is that they are motivated by profit, often at the expense of all else. When Google founders included “You can make money without doing evil.” in their list of 10 Things We Know to Be True, they were deliberately swimming against the current of popular opinion. SuiteImpact Team in action, Flickr In the past fifteen years a series of corporate ethical …

Excessive Business Travel is Unhealthy

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Anyone who travels extensively for work knows it can be hard to stay healthy on the road (or in the air). Some of the factors that can erode the well-being of travelling employees include: Photo by Jessica Spengler, Flickr The contained environment on flights that efficiently recirculates virus-laden air. Too much sitting (whether driving or flying). Unhealthy food. Increased alcohol consumption at business functions. The stress associated with travel and being away from home. Breaks in regular fitness routines making it hard to maintain good habits. Exposure to unfamiliar health and safety risks. While business travel has been around since …

Centralized Versus Decentralized HR

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For companies with multiple, geographically distributed locations, deciding whether or not to centralize HR is a decision with broad operational and strategic implications. A centralized approach enables an organization to streamline departmental functions across a complex system. It also ensures that HR policies are applied consistently and that information is managed in a unified way. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain On the other hand, different locations are typically subject to distinct human resources regulatory and payroll tax environments, not to mention unique recruiting cultures; which lends weight to the argument for decentralization.   Multi-location companies that have grown through acquisition typically …

A Tale of Two Thanksgivings

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Pumpkins by stevenW6, Flickr Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada – seven weeks earlier than American Thanksgiving, and way too soon to be considered a logical extension of the holiday shopping season. No doubt our hasty celebration of Thanksgiving has something to do with the shorter growing season and earlier harvest provided by our more northerly latitude. Proclaimed by Parliament in 1879 as "a day of General Thanksgiving,” the celebration was not tied to the second Monday in October until 1957. The origins of Thanksgiving in Canada are variously credited to Martin Frobisher, who gave thanks for the well-being of …

What Happened to Work Ethic?

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Last week, I was chatting with a friend who runs a small business. Since I’m always interested in (and writing about) HR, I asked him to share his most significant HR challenges as a small business owner. He gave me a look—followed by what could only be described as a rant (which I can’t comfortably document in a public medium!). After this lengthy vent, he settled on the following two challenges: Strong Work Ethic by regan76, Flickr Finding people with a work ethic. Finding people who are flexible and able to continually learn new …

Keeping Remote Workers Motivated

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The trend toward telecommuting shows no signs of slowing down. Between 2005 and 2013, the number of remote workers grew by nearly 80%.[1] The numbers show that 50 million workers in the U.S alone could (and want to) work remotely.[2] As this data demonstrates, people who work remotely are often involved in the decision to do so. In fact, many remote workers specifically seek out roles that allowed them the flexibility to work outside the office. When asked, 79% of U.S. workers say they would like to work from home at least part of the time.[3] Working in Isolation In spite of this …

Continuously Improving Onboarding

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Cooperation by Marina del Castell, Flickr Onboarding is a critical component in the successful integration of new hires and can have a great impact on employee satisfaction and retention. For that reason, we prioritize it at TribeHR and have developed a continuous improvement approach to onboarding that is everyone’s responsibility. In a previous blog post I referenced this process as follows: Since we also ask new hires to identify something they can improve in the on-boarding process within the first 30 days (and then improve it), everyone is collectively invested in enhancing the on-boarding experience for new hires. This …

Who is the Customer?

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Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain Many organizations place exceptional customer service at the heart of their mission. Sometimes, this focus on service is the primary element of their brand that sets them apart from the competition. For these companies, customer service is “mission critical.” But who, exactly, is the customer? Typically, a customer is thought of as the client, buyer, or purchaser of an organization’s products or services. For companies who identify customer service as a key differentiator in the marketplace, however, this perspective leaves too much to chance. Every employee who deals directly with these external …

I’m in HR and I Need a Laugh

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I sat down to write today’s blog and decided I needed a mood lightener. First, I thought about sharing one of those hilarious “it could only happen in HR” stories. But we’re not a big office and I’d run the risk of exposing personal information about an employee, so scratch that idea. Next, I dug through my humor folder, where I save stuff that tickles my funny bone, to see what popped. I had a reminiscent chuckle over this unattributed list found on a forum a while back.   Rules Left Out …

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The Latest from Workplace Tribes
The Surprising Thing About Accommodation October 22, 2014
CSR: Doing Good is Not Enough October 20, 2014
Excessive Business Travel is Unhealthy October 17, 2014
Centralized Versus Decentralized HR October 15, 2014
A Tale of Two Thanksgivings October 13, 2014
What Happened to Work Ethic? October 10, 2014
Keeping Remote Workers Motivated October 08, 2014
Continuously Improving Onboarding October 06, 2014
Who is the Customer? October 03, 2014
I’m in HR and I Need a Laugh October 01, 2014