Author: Gary Karp
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Every year, NDEAM echoes the clarion calls that I heard growing up in the sixties: “Hire the Handicapped.”
This call to action suggests that employers are expected to go out of their way to hire workers with disabilities as a kind of sacrifice for the greater social good. This sentiment also implies that such employees might not be as productive in the workforce, but hiring them is simply the right thing to do.
I wonder how many employers react to hiring a person with a disability in the same manner today. How many employers imagine that they are being asked to accept a lower level of productivity? How many believe that the person might not last long in the job? How many expect that they would not be able to communicate with – namely evaluate – an employee with a disability? How many fear that other employees in the organization might be uncomfortable having them around?
We don’t have to go far to find out if employers are concerned about these things. In a November 2010 survey, the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) in the U.S. Department of Labor reported high numbers of employers with these very concerns. For companies of all sizes, 45.7% of respondents were concerned that a worker with a disability may not be as productive as other workers. 40.7% were concerned they wouldn’t know how to evaluate their work. 30.8% would not be comfortable managing them.
Honestly, I don’t fault employers for these fears. Managers have major responsibilities, and have to make sure they are meeting expectations and goals. It’s no surprise that they would have these concerns. I just wonder how many of these ideas are amplified by the imperative to “Hire the Handicapped.”
To respond to these fears, I wish to explore the question, “Who are people with disabilities in the 21st Century, and what do they have to do with the success of my organization?” On sincere inspection, you’ll discover that the concerns uncovered in the ODEP survey doesn’t fit the potential that workers with disabilities have to contribute to success in the workplace.
Disability simply doesn’t equate with productivity. When someone is qualified for a job, and you hire them based on their goals, their personality, and their capacity to contribute to organizational missions and goals, then that individual is likely to perform as well as any other person without a disability.
The solution, therefore, is to focus on the person, not the disability. Start with the usual – their qualifications, goals, personality, and why they want to work for you. Then, by all means ask if they’ll be able to perform certain required tasks. Nothing illegal about that.
It’s the same with employee evaluations. When evaluating an employee with a disability, simply ask, “How did this person do on the job? Did they perform the essential tasks? If they fell short, then what guidance do they need to bring their performance up to speed?”
So here’s my imperative plea to employers: Don’t hire us out of a sense of social good. Don’t edge out someone else unless we are at least equally qualified for the job. Don’t think of hiring people with disabilities as a matter of good public relations. Don’t hire us and then lower the bar of expectation based on the assumption that we couldn’t be as productive as another. Don’t hire us for jobs that are below our actual ability, and then deny us the opportunity to prove ourselves.
When you hold people with disabilities to the same standards as everyone else, you raise their achievement level. Anyone who shows up with a sense of entitlement shouldn’t get the job. (And no law says you have to give it to them if they aren’t right for it.) This is how more of the truly emergent class of qualified workers who happen to have disabilities will actually get to contribute in the workplace — to your success.
Moreover, people who are active, working, and feeling good about being productive are healthier. They are far less likely to need costly (and unnecessary) healthcare that follows from weight gain, heart disease, and depression. It also creates a society where fewer people need to collect disability benefits.
Doesn’t that make economic and business sense?
About the Author: Gary Karp is an author and speaker whose goal is to enlighten society to the radical changes that have taken place in what he calls "Modern Disability." A wheelchair user following a spinal cord injury…
Source: The Conference Board Human Capital Exchange