Would you hire a person with a disability?

Déjà Vu: This column was originally published in the Journal-News, a newspaper distributed in Rockland County, New York, November 11, 1991.

I'm re-publishing this column as part of my online blog. I still believe the message is appropriate today.Photos, web links or other annotations have been added to this posting from my collection or the web, as noted.

Some of the organizations and programs mentioned here may have changed or no longer exist in New York State as of this writing.  I hope you find this column helpful and informative.

If you are a manager looking to hire new employees, would you consider hiring a qualified, disabled person for the job?

And let's say you did hire a disabled employee, would you be able to treat both your "non-disabled" and "disabled" employees fairly? 

Would you be able to offer raises, special assignments and promotions equitably, and not discriminate?

These are just some of the questions facing managers across America as more and more disabled people enter and remain in the workplace.

Image result for disabled people
Whether they like it or not, managers will have to deal with these issues at some point in their careers for these reasons: First, labor consultants predict a shortage of people with skills to fill jobs ranging from clerical positions to white-collar professionals in the next five years. In a recent survey of companies, more than 60% of respondents said they expected difficulty in filling positions for jobs. 

Second, the recently enacted Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees rights for the disabled and encourages their entry into the workplace.

With the expected shortage of skilled labor, managers today cannot afford to exclude job applicants simply because of a disability. Managers will have to overcome their personal feelings and decide if a disabled person is qualified to do the job. And, if they are, consider hiring them.

Once a disabled person is hired, however, there are organizations and consultants willing to assist managers, such as the (former) President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, in Washington DC, Jawonio and Camp Venture industries here in Rockland County, N.Y.

Modifications to accommodate a disabled person in the workplace are usually inexpensive and federal tax breaks are also available. Making the decision to hire a disabled person for a job is considered a big step by some employers, usually because the company has never done it before. 

But once a disabled person is hired and accommodations are made, if needed, supervisors and managers may find the day-to-day interaction with a disabled person the most challenging.

Although not a replacement for interpersonal skills, I've compiled a list of  "do's and don'ts" for managers, supervisors and employees who may be fortunate enough to have a disabled person working with them.
Disabled People
Web Stock Photo, Canada
  • Focus on the person not the disability. 
  • Treat the disabled employee as you would a regular employee. Disabled people want to be treated fairly and equally. 
  • Don't block opportunity for your employee because of a disability. If he or she is qualified and eligible for promotion, discuss the pros and cons of the job, then let the employee determine what needs to be done, and see if it can be worked out. If it can't, or the employee needs help, he or she will tell you.
  • If a sensitive issue concerns or troubles you, ask about it directly. 
  • Gain an understanding of your employee's disability by asking questions about it. Most disabled people will tell you exactly what the disability is, how they became disabled, and what their needs are. 
  • Don't make assumptions about the disabled employee's capabilities. Many have had to become innovative and creative in order to overcome the numerous obstacles they encounter every day. 
  • Modify the work facilities as necessary. If your employee uses a wheelchair, make sure meeting places are accessible; if he or she is blind, try to get publications in braille or on cassette tape. People have different disabilities, so be sensitive to the one your employee has. 
  • Don't patronize disabled employees, they get enough of that outside work. 
  • Don't exclusively talk about disability, medical research or accessibility issues exclusively in casual conversations with your employee. He or she is just as interested as you are in baseball, football, fashion the opera or the weather.
Today, an employer's refusal or reluctance to hire disabled people may find themselves overlooking a valuable and skilled employee, and, possibly putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage in the labor market.  

Section 503: New hiring rules by the U.S. Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) in effect next year. 

Despite nearly 25 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities continue to face barriers to equal opportunity in employment.
Image result for dol logoIn 2012, the overall employment rate of adults with disabilities was 33.5%, as compared to 76.3% for others. Further, the full-time/full-year employment rate for people with disabilities was 20.9%, as compared with 56.4% for others. 

The newly revised Section 503 Regulations aim to change these statistics by requiring employers who are federal contractors or subcontractors to set affirmative action goals and report progress toward meeting these goals.

Coverage and enforcement: A new benchmark

The new rules require federal contractors and subcontractors to aspire to, and track progress toward, employing individuals with disabilities. Though RA Section 503 has been in effect since 1973, there has not been a specific benchmark defining what the percent of individuals with disabilities are to be in the workforce of covered employers. 

The 7% workforce goal (7-8% for veterans)
Covered employers must now attain, or show progress toward attaining a workforce that consists of at least 7% of people with disabilities.
Called a utilization or aspirational goal, this requirement is not a quota, but a way to ensure that federal contractors include disability in their strategies around recruitment and hiring. The seven-percent-goal will apply to each job group in the workplace or to the entire workforce if there are fewer than 100 employees.

Effective March 24, 2014, contractors are required by the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) to develop a written affirmative action program (AAP) and must also establish a hiring benchmark for protected veterans each year or adopt the national benchmark provided by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).



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