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How to Cultivate a Work Environment That Benefits Employees with Disabilities

One in five Americans has a disability, which translates to roughly 56.7 million people. While people with disabilities make up the largest minority group, they have one of the highest unemployment rates (around 17.5%), which is four times the national employment rate. Perhaps one of the reasons why the unemployment gap is so huge comes down to the age-old stereotype that those with disabilities (e.g. blind, deaf, wheel-chair bound, etc.) are more liability than asset to businesses. This can’t be further from the truth. That being said, here’s why employees with disabilities are important to companies, and what you can do to create a work environment that benefits employees with disabilities and their strengths. (Plus, learn why you need to conduct a Georgia Secretary of State corporations search.)

Employees with Disabilities Have Fine-Tuned, Problem-Solving Skills

Employees with disabilities have exceptional problem-solving skills, fine-tuned from coming up with ways to not only manage but thrive in their day-to-day lives. They offer a unique perspective and, because of this, can contribute new ideas to their team that will help the company grow.

Businesses Who Hire Employees with Disabilities Reap Big Benefits

Read on to learn what businesses can gain from hiring and retaining employees with disabilities.

Get More Customer Loyalty

Businesses who hire and support employees with disabilities bring in more profits. Think about it. You are going to get loyal customers from the largest minority group. Doing the numbers, that means 56.7 million people more or less are willing to purchase—or at least take a look at — your product or service.

Doesn’t Just Talks the Talk

Also, morally speaking, your business not only talks the talk but walks it. Most business mission statements usually mention something to the effect of “providing quality service to all.” By hiring employees with disabilities, you communicate to your customers that you stand by those values in your mission statement.

Increased Customer Satisfaction

In other words, your customer satisfaction will shoot up because customers want to support a morally conscious company. If you don’t believe this to be true, look at successful Fortune 500 companies who are (and continue to be) huge advocates of hiring and retaining disabled employees: Starbucks, CVS Health, Delta Airlines, Microsoft, and General Motors.

Higher Employee Engagement and Less Turnover

One of the biggest and most costly issues companies face is high employee turnover rates. A 2015 Gallup Survey revealed that only 32% of employees in the U.S. were engaged at work. This leaves 68% currently looking for another job. Employees who work for a company that hires, supports, and retains disabled employees will think twice about leaving a morally responsible business. Employees with disabilities likewise are more likely to have company loyalty. Gitangali Gems, an Indian jewelry manufacturing company, proves is an example of this. Between 280 and 2,500 Gitangali Gems workforce is disabled. According to Harvard Business Review, the jewelry manufacturing company put in the time and training and, in return, now have hundreds of hardworking and loyal employees.

More Diverse Company

Diversity is always a benefit in a company. Bringing together employees who have several different experiences can foster innovation and lead to business growth. Often times, the disability population is left out when company diversity is brought up. This can only hinder businesses since they aren't playing into the unique strengths peoples with disabilities brings to the office.

 Larger Talent Pool

Unfortunately, because of the outdated thinking we’ve mentioned earlier, some companies will overlook disabled employees—and the talents they bring to the table. This leaves an untapped talent pool hiring managers can take advantage of. Remember, disabled employees aren’t defined by their disability; a blind employee, for instance, can still have exceptional marketing skills and a deaf employee can write persuasive copy. Businesses who recognize this and give these employees the resources they need will only reap in the more benefits—such as increased profitability. Speaking of profitability, according to Forbes, people with disabilities in the U.S. control around $544 billion in disposable income per year. Forbes goes on to state that when you combine the income of friends and family members of those with disabilities, the dollar amount increases even more. Which goes to show how much companies have to gain by hiring and supporting employees with disabilities.

How to Cultivate a Work Environment That Disabled Employees Thrive In

Speaking of providing resources, now that you understand what’s to be gained from hiring disabled employees, how do you create a work environment that brings their strengths out?

Any Physical Accommodations?

First and foremost, you need to make sure your office can physically accommodate every employee working for you. This means installing ramps for wheel-chair bound employees to use. If you work in a building with several levels of stairs, the building should have an elevator—know that this is code mandated. Also, modify your restroom so it is accessible for everyone.

Do Your Employees Need Interpreters or Readers?

Deaf employees may benefit from having a sign language interpreter. Whereas, blind employees could benefit from reading assistance. Instead of waiting for your employees to approach you with accommodations, go the extra step and reach out to them first about how you can help meet their needs. Doing so, will communicate to them that your company values their contribution.

Do You Need to Have a Quiet Workspace?

Some employees with disabilities may work better in a quieter setting. Give them this option by breaking up your office by noise level. Yes, it’s true that some employees—with or without disabilities—may enjoy and excel in a communal environment where they bounce project ideas off one another. So, have a communal space. At the same time, create a more private room, with cubicle walls and a no- to low-noise policy for those employees who prefer less distractions.

Do You Need Braille, Audio, Or Other Materials?

Blind employees may benefit from having training materials translated in Braille or audio. As we’ve mentioned earlier, if you aren’t sure what your employee needs, ask him or her. Perhaps an employee with a visual impairment may prefer audio over Braille, or vice versa? The last thing you want to do is assume you know what’s best—especially if you have little to no experience with the disability.

Training for Employees

It’s a good idea to provide sensitivity training to your employees so they have more awareness and understanding. Even if you don’t have any employees (that you know of) with a disability, you could eventually hire someone who does—or you may have a client with one. The point is, if employees don’t have personal experience with a disability (either personally having one or having a family member or friend with a disability), they most likely have many assumptions that aren’t true.

Common Misconceptions Lead to an Unhealthy Work Environment

Some common (incorrect) assumptions are thinking a person with one disability has several; those with a disability are incapable of being productive members of society; disabled individuals are threat to those around them; and disabled employees deserve to be pitied. Without this training, you risk employees having rude interactions with employees, managers, and clients with disabilities—which, in turn, leads to an unhealthy work environment.

Questions Are Answered Without Fear of Coming Off as Rude

Another reason it’s important for employees to have this type of training is that, more often than not, most want to know what the correct language is and have questions but feel it would be rude or too intrusive to ask someone with a disability about them. In this sense, training provides a platform for curious and well-meaning employees to get their questions answered.

Final Thoughts

Employees with disabilities can be tremendous assets to your team and business. Not only do you tap into a talent pool that is highly adaptable and great at problem-solving but you help create a business that is morally and socially conscious, which leads to higher employee engagement, greater customer and employee loyalty, and less turnover. You can increase these benefits by cultivating an environment that meets all employee needs. Some changes include installing ramps, hiring interpreters or readers, providing Braille or audio material, and creating a quieter workspace. Contrary to what some may think, these accommodation costs are quite low, especially since you stand to earn a high return on investment. That being said, we recommend that you provide your employees sensitivity training about disabilities. That way, they know what language to use and interact with other employees, managers, and clients without coming off as rude. While businesses do get a tax incentive from hiring people with disabilities and can reap in profits, know that your business is positively affecting people’s lives. Have any other recommendations? What are your thoughts on this topic? How has your business benefited from hiring people with disabilities? Be sure to leave a comment in the comments section below.

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