Employees with Disabilities Get the Job Done

During National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), it's important to remember the value that employees with disabilities bring to the workplace, in addition to our communities, our country and our economy.

People with disabilities not only represent the largest and most diverse minority in the United States, but they are also a significant untapped source of qualified candidates.

However, employment numbers paint a pretty dismal picture. According to Disability Employment Statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), nearly 20 percent of Americans with disabilities are participating in the labor force, as compared to nearly 69 percent of people without disabilities. Furthermore, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 8.7 percent; of people without disabilities, 4.6 percent are unemployed.

Many employers mistakenly think that hiring workers with disabilities will lead to higher costs to provide reasonable accommodations, when actually the opposite is true. Studies have consistently shown that employees with disabilities are talented, efficient, creative and loyal, with less absenteeism or turnover than their peers.

In my opinion, the top three biggest misconceptions about hiring employees with disabilities, in reverse order, are: 3) cost of accommodations, 2) fear of litigation and 1) ignorance!

According to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), the majority of accommodations cost nothing, while many have a one-time cost of less than $500. For more information, read the JAN Study: Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact.

We need to do a better job learning about which supports employees with disabilities need to perform their job responsibilities efficiently and easily. And we need to stop assuming we already know. One suggestion would be to create an internal work group of employees with and without disabilities. It can be a valuable learning experience for all. Then take the ideas generated by the group and make it part of your company's policies. That's what inclusion is all about.

The advent of universal design is changing the world we live in by making buildings, products and environments that are accessible to all - people with disabilities and those without disabilities. In addition, the rise of technology enables people to do their jobs anytime and from anywhere, creating multiple opportunities for a flexible workplace that works for everyone.

The NDEAM theme for this year is #InclusionWorks, and as we celebrate NDEAM and disability employment, I urge people to also think about the financial inclusion of people with disabilities.

Twenty-six years after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law, there remain persistent barriers to economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities. Equal opportunity must include options to build the knowledge and skills necessary to make informed financial decisions; access to financial education and coaching; affordable and accessible financial services and products; inclusion in career pathways; and the ability to save and build assets.
People with disabilities want to work, save and make informed financial decisions to become financially stable.

Employment is the start of a better economic future for people with disabilities. With the very first paycheck, a person with a disability can begin to create a budget, set financial goals, build assets and save.

As a result of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, qualified individuals with disabilities can now save funds in a tax-advantaged savings account (an ABLE account) to cover the cost of disability-related expenses. June 2016 marked the launch of the country's first ABLE programs in Ohio, Tennessee, Nebraska, and Florida.

ABLE account funds could help individuals with disabilities achieve employment outcomes. Qualified disability-related expenses include those related to the beneficiary's disability and that help the beneficiary increase or maintain his or her health, independence, and/or quality of life. Additionally, funds in an ABLE account are to be used to supplement, not supplant, publicly-funded supports.

A qualified disability-related expense could include expenses which assist the beneficiary with obtaining and/or maintaining competitive integrated employment. The following are just some examples of employment-related expenses that could likely be paid for with funds contributed to an ABLE account:
  • Job coaching;
  • Costs associated with certificates, accreditations, and/or job related trainings;
  • Interview prep and resume development;
  • Transportation to and from the beneficiary's place of employment; and
  • Financial education and coaching.

For more information related to the ABLE Act and ABLE programs in general, please visit the ABLE National Resource Center at www.ablenrc.org.

Inclusion means equal participation in all aspects of life - social, cultural, educational, professional and financial. Let's do our best to promote opportunities for people with disabilities to create inclusive communities where people with disabilities are contributors and investors in a better economic future.

Since its inception in 2005, National Disability Institute (NDI) remains the first and only national nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to designing pathways to economic stability and mobility for persons with disabilities. Through public policy research and development and customized training and technical assistance, NDI has become a recognized leader nationwide demonstrating that individuals across the spectrum of disabilities can work, save for the future and advance their financial capability and economic stability.