Be honest: have you ever pushed aside the resume of an otherwise perfect job candidate because they identified themselves as having a disability? If so, you may have missed an opportunity to hire a talented, loyal and highly-skilled employee. Unfortunately, for many businesses that are unfamiliar, the perceived challenges and stigmas of employing individuals with disabilities weigh heavily on hiring decisions and too often result in qualified candidates being overlooked.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 4 people in the U.S. has a disability, making it the largest minority group in the country. Studies have shown that businesses benefit by hiring people with disabilities. They have lower turnover, less absenteeism, and they foster improved morale and a more positive work environment as a byproduct of diversity. Yet companies are still slow to hire from this group, leading to high unemployment. Why?

The largest barrier to employment for someone with a disability is overcoming employers’ misconceptions and perceived risks of welcoming them into the workplace. Employers often worry about how other employees and customers will react to having a person with a disability on the team, whether there will be challenges supervising and communicating with that individual, or if they will be safe on the job. They may also wonder what will happen if it doesn’t work out. As long as these misperceptions exist, there will be a fundamental lack of opportunity. 

Fortunately, there are organizations at work throughout the state whose missions are to help people with disabilities overcome these obstacles. A prime example is Bosma Enterprises, an Indiana nonprofit with a 100-year history of helping people who are blind regain independence through rehabilitation services and robust employment support. They believe that everyone should have the ability to support themselves financially and live independently and are fighting to level the playing field and create employment opportunities for people who are blind or visually impaired.

People who are blind or visually impaired face a 70 percent unemployment rate nationally. According to the National Federation of the Blind, more than 30 percent of adults in the United States who are blind live in poverty. That’s an especially concerning statistic when you consider that by 2030, the rate of blindness is estimated to double along with the country’s aging population.

Right now, there are nearly 160,000 Hoosiers living with vision loss, and Bosma Enterprises is working tirelessly to help these individuals gain the life skills they need to remain independent and the job skills they need to stay self-sufficient. As a DirectEmployers partner, Bosma Enterprises understands that employers who are willing to become educated about establishing a disability-inclusive workforce will find these employees can be highly motivated and successful individuals, having overcome what many people might consider a challenging work/life barrier. And, there are typically just a few accommodations required to ensure a positive outcome for the employee and employer.

The good news is that this training and outreach is beginning to move the needle. According to a 2018 study conducted by ResearchNowSSI, HR managers report that their focus on recruiting, training, and retaining employees with disabilities has grown in importance by 12 percent since 2012 when a previous study was executed. Hiring managers also indicate a greater understanding of the many jobs a person who is blind is capable of doing. What’s even more exciting is 20 percent of survey participants who work for companies with 1,000 or less employees report they have specific programs to educate their employees about working with people who have disabilities.

Of course, awareness of the problem is just the first step. Companies are also encouraged to take action. Organizations like ours can be powerful allies for businesses who want to prioritize a disability inclusive workplace. DirectEmployers is a nonprofit member-owned and -managed association whose mission is to engage the labor community through cost-effective, proven expertise, technology and services.

Formed in 2001 by 14 leading Fortune 500 companies searching for a way to reduce recruiting costs, DirectEmployers developed a federal contractor compliance solution that helps employers navigate mandatory listing requirements and other regulations. Now with over 900 employers varying in industry and size, we’ve expanded our member benefits to include online recruiting solutions, the Partner Relationship Manager (PRM), analytics tools, targeted job distribution, networking and educational opportunities and more.

A welcoming, inclusive culture often starts from the top down. Make an effort to address biases, stigmas and fears that may be influencing your organization’s hiring practices. Host a training session with supervisors in your company, launch an employee resource group, or join an organization like DirectEmployers that can serve as a trusted guide.

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to give that job candidate with a disability a chance. After all, you may very well be interviewing your next superstar employee.

Shannon Offord is vice president, strategic partnerships and alliances at Direct Employers.

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