October celebrates the 76th National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Led by the U.S. Department of Labor, the month’s purpose is to provide education on disability employment issues and acknowledge and celebrate the contributions America’s workers with disabilities.
Workforce Southwest Washington (WSW) is dedicated to creating an equitable economic recovery, with goals to break down barriers, increase access and improve outcomes for historically underrepresented and under-served populations. We encourage companies to take advantage of services and learning opportunities to support individuals with disabilities in their workplaces, educational institutions and greater community.
In Washington State, as of 2019, individuals with disabilities are employed at a rate of 39.9 percent, compared to individuals without disabilities who are employed at a rate of 78.1 percent. In the region WSW covers, the employment gap reflects the statewide trend. In Clark County, individuals with disabilities are employed at a rate of 41.7 percent versus 78.6 percent of individuals without disabilities. In Cowlitz County, the rate is 29.8 percent versus 75.7 percent and in Wahkiakum County, 19.9 percent versus 62.6 percent. Individuals with disabilities are an underutilized and largely untapped talent pool that can greatly benefit local businesses.
Hiring individuals with disabilities can have a variety of positive impacts on a company’s culture. People with disabilities offer new perspectives, workplace diversity and opportunities for innovation. Hiring and retaining employees with disabilities raises awareness of accessibility and inclusivity and further exemplifies a company’s dedication to serving and creating an equitable environment. In addition, people with disabilities are reliable employees and overall have a higher job retention rate.
In addition to benefits to workplace culture, hiring individuals with disabilities can financially benefit companies in a multitude of ways. Hiring individuals with disabilities can result in an increased consumer market. A 2015 Center for Disease Control and Prevention report stated that one in five Americans have a disability, representing a trillion dollar market segment. Hiring and retaining employees from the disability community shows that your company is dedicated to serving their needs.
In a study conducted by Accenture, companies that championed diversity, as defined by their independent scoring system, on average saw a 28 percent higher revenue, double the net income and 30 percent increase in their economic profit margin. Furthermore, employing individuals with disabilities allows companies an opportunity to gain input from a more diverse customer base.
Other benefits available for companies include tax credits, such as:
- Work Opportunity Tax Credit– provides employers incentives to hire qualified individuals from these target groups. The maximum tax credit ranges from $1,200 to $9,600, depending on the employee hired and the length of employment.
- Barrier Removal Deduction – encourages businesses to remove architectural and transportation barriers to the mobility of persons with disabilities and the elderly. Businesses may claim a deduction of up to $15,000 a year for qualified expenses for items that normally must be capitalized.
- Disabled Access Credit – provides a non-refundable credit for small businesses that incur expenditures for the purpose of providing access to persons with disabilities. An eligible small business is one that earned $1 million or less or had no more than 30 full-time employees in the previous year.
At the Untapped Talent: Access & Success event, hosted by the Interstate Disability Employment Alliance (IDEA), Shelan Stritzke of iQ Credit Union shared how they have hired and retained employees with disabilities. Stritzke recalled a situation when iQ Credit Union was interviewing an individual with a visual impairment. The candidate came to the interview prepared to advocate for their accommodations. The hiring committee and the HR department collaborated with vocational rehabilitation services to assess their workplace and find ways to accommodate the employee. Vocational rehabilitation found that iQ would need to obtain a larger monitor for the employee and a software called ZoomText. For iQ, these accommodations were simple and cost-effective and vocational rehabilitation services offered reimbursement for these products.
Beyond offering accommodations, iQ Credit Union implemented a task force focused on equity and inclusion in the workforce. This taskforce seeks to raise awareness on the different experiences individuals go through and how iQ can help build connections based on these experiences. Stritzke stressed the importance of training managers and staff on inclusion and implicit bias to create a more inclusive and diverse workforce.
Kory Harp, Program Manager at MOD Pizza, also presented at the Untapped Talent event on their approach to hiring and retaining individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD). MOD Pizza currently employs 253 people who identify as having disabilities. Of those individuals, 76 percent have job coaches. Job coaches assist employees with IDD by visiting with the employee at their store once a week and helping the employee navigate through any issues that may arise. MOD Pizza partners with Best Buddies International to help the employer and employee throughout hiring, on-boarding and coaching process.
Harp highlighted MOD Pizza’s dedication to giving everyone a chance to grow and become the best versions of themselves through their employment at MOD. MOD Pizza has made the pledge to the Delivering Jobs Initiative, a joint effort to create one million employment opportunities for individuals with autism and intellectual and developmental differences. Read more on MOD Pizza’s dedication to creating employment opportunities for individuals with IDD here.
Robust services are available for companies that need assistance hiring individuals with disabilities:
- Division of Vocational Rehabilitation – provides services for businesses in hiring and retaining DVR customers with disabilities, including finding quality applicants, improving diversity programs, retention services, funds to cover on-the-job training or an internship for a new employee from DVR and information and resources on assistive technology and adaptive equipment.
- Delivering Jobs – a collaboration seeking to create employment and leadership opportunities for individuals with disabilities. For businesses, Delivering Jobs provides an inclusion self-assessment, resources and asks employers to take the pledge to re-evaluate hiring practices, increase hiring efforts and create inclusive support systems for candidates and employees with disabilities.
- Talent Acquisition Portal – a paid service for companies to tap into a large talent pool of individuals with disabilities. Services include job posting, proactive resume searching, targeted outreach and job fairs.
- Employment Network Finder – a tool to locate Employment Networks in your area. Employment Networks are agencies funded through the Social Security Administration’s Ticket to Work Program that support people with disabilities by providing employment and vocational rehabilitation services.
- Workforce Southwest Washington – services for businesses including employee recruitment and retention and business growth with the goal of supporting equitable economic recovery and providing access to high-quality employment and advancement opportunities.
- For additional resources for finding candidates with disabilities, visit the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN).
- The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) provides a Workplace Accommodation Toolkit for employers looking to create a more inclusive and accessible workplace, beyond basic compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The toolkit has resources and tools for hiring managers, supervisors and managers, technology professionals and employees.
Companies looking to hire and retain people with disabilities must ensure they create an accessible, inclusive and supportive workplace culture for their employees. Companies should create a strategy around supporting equitable and accessible policies within their company. A strong history of standing by diversity, equity and inclusion will foster a sense of trust and accountability between employers, managers and employees with disabilities. Employers must commit to make accommodations for their staff and go beyond what is required by law, creating a culture of equity.