There are about 334,000 B.C. residents with disabilities of working age (between 15 and 64) according to Statistics Canada. Of that number, the under-employed group of people with disabilities includes about 71,000 British Columbians who are either unemployed or not working but able to.
Employing people with different abilities has many benefits that aren’t commonly known, especially for employers. For example, hiring someone with a disability means they are five times more likely than other workers to stay on the job. This can save money on recruitment, training and lost productivity.
90% of employees with disabilities also rated average or better in job performance and attendance, compared to colleagues without a disability. In a Forbes survey, 56% of companies with more than $10 million in annual revenues strongly agree that diversity in your workforce drives innovation.
Despite these and other benefits, misconceptions about hiring people with different abilities (including the myth that workplace accommodations have to be costly), prevail.
Here are 7 ways for employers to benefit while creating more inclusive hiring practices:
- Learn to ask about employees’ disabilities and talk about disabilities often. Employers have a role in providing a work environment where each person’s strengths and contributions are recognized. Seeing beyond an employee’s disabilities doesn’t mean tiptoeing around it or pretending disabilities don’t exist. Learn how to ask respectfully about how an employee’s disability may impact their work life and abilities, what descriptions are preferred, and empowering people with disabilities to talk about/make others feel comfortable with their disability.
- Increase the awareness of invisible disabilities. There is generally poor levels of awareness of invisible disabilities compared to visible ones. Invisible disabilities or hidden disabilities refer to a range of disabilities that are not immediately apparent. For example, some individuals might be managing chronic pain, or move differently but not require the use of a mobility aid. Invisible disabilities can include traumatic brain injury, mental illness, fibromyalgia, epilepsy, a learning disability or arthritis.
- Let employees with disabilities take the lead. But don’t let employees with disabilities do all the work. Individuals with disabilities know themselves best – their abilities and how best to do their job efficiently and effectively. Providing an open environment and support requires open and ongoing dialogue with employees with disabilities. This might include encouraging existing employees with disabilities to contribute to discussions at work or assisting with awareness training for their colleagues to address misconceptions and stigma. All employees should understand their role in understanding disability, the impacts of disability for individuals and the barriers, challenges and opportunities these present in the workplace, and how all of us can be good allies and co-workers.
- Collaborate with employees on possible accommodations. Having a concrete idea of what an accommodation or “support” actually looks like helps to make it more doable. An accommodation simply means ensuring that the job opportunity and the office environment is accessible and inclusive for employees. It may be a physical design to assist the individual to do the job, such as altering the placement of the keyboard or the mouse or providing a stand-up desk, or more space around a desk for a mobility device. Or it may be a change in work schedule with more flexible hours, breaking down tasks or adapting learning strategies or ensuring that sufficient and real breaks are taken to restore energy. It depends on the individual’s needs. Generally, individuals who need certain accommodations know what they need and it takes collaboration between the employee and employer to determine what would work best.
- Access financial support for making workplace accommodations. Tax credits, government wage subsidies, and other financial incentives are available. When specialized equipment is required, the B.C. government’s Technology@Work program can be used to help purchase equipment.
- Consider developing a “job carve.” In job carves, appropriate tasks and responsibilities are “carved” or created based on an individual’s skills, availability and learning style. This might include taking existing tasks from other employee roles to create a new role, modifying or restructuring existing jobs or bringing together a combination of job tasks that fill the work needs of an employer, while capitalizing on the skills and strengths of individuals with different needs.
- Establish strong policy and accountability to the public. Employers in B.C. would benefit from having highly visible policy around hiring people with different abilities. This practice would not only improve employers’ public reputation, but also the success of hiring people with disabilities.