For business owners wanting to launch disability-hiring programs the challenge can be daunting. Is there enough support? Do you have time? Will your customers and staff suffer in any way? As with any new program, the more you know ahead of time the more likely you´ll have success. Here are two characteristics I think will help as well-tolerance and honesty. Sometimes it´s not the other people you need to convince but yourself. You need to be open and honest with yourself. If you have some biases that are going to get in the way, then address those by becoming educated. If you´ve always been uncomfortable around people with disabilities but you´re still interested in bring them into your business, then ask yourself about your threshold for tolerance. Here are some great tips from Nancy Henderson Wurst, author of Able! How one company´s disabled workforce became the key to extraordinary success:
LGL: What advice would you give to business owners who are thinking of starting their own disability-hiring programs?
NHW: Go into this with a positive attitude and a willingness to see it through. That may mean giving a person with mental retardation a couple of extra days to learn the job. Or it may mean educating your managers on how to handle certain situations as they arise.
Find a mentor. Take a tour of a business that´s hiring people with disabilities. Establish relationships with employment agencies, special-ed teachers and advocates. Find people you can call if you need advice.
Start small. Don´t try to bring in a dozen mentally-challenged employees if no one in your organization has ever worked around people with disabilities. Introduce a few workers into a single department or unit. But don´t segregate them from the rest of the staff; if you do that, you´re perpetuating an "us vs. them" mentality and that´s the last thing you want to do.
Don´t do it for the wrong reasons. If you hire people with disabilities just to take advantage of tax breaks, save money by paying cheap wages or boost your image in the community, you´ll defeat the whole purpose. The intent here is to provide good jobs for good employees and boost your business at the same time. If you do the right thing and hire people with disabilities because you´re convinced they can become valuable members of your organization, they´ll work hard for you and you´ll see your revenues grow.
LGL: Could you please describe some of the common misconceptions about hiring workers with disabilities?
NHW: In a 2003 Rutgers University study, a high percentage of employers said they feared that people with disabilities wouldn´t be able to do the job. Many also think that workers with disabilities will slow down production, be out sick a lot or need more supervision. These are all myths. Just look at the Habitat International model. There is practically no absenteeism. The company has had zero back orders in 25 years. The fill rate is 99.9%, and the .01% of unfilled orders comes not from the workers with disabilities but from outside factors, such as shipping mistakes caused by freight lines. Some employers also worry about accidents. Since Habitat opened for business in 1981, there have only been three on-site accidents. All three involved "able-bodied" supervisors, not people with disabilities. On a national level, studies conducted by DuPont and other companies show that people with disabilities have equal or higher performance ratings, better retention rates and less absenteeism.