Last week, I wrote about hiring people with disabilities based on my discussion with author Nancy Henderson Wurst who wrote Able! How one company´s disabled workforce became the key to extraordinary success. We´d all like some extraordinary success though too often we look for it in neat and obvious packages. We can all learn something from Habitat International, Inc., the company highlighted in Nancy´s inspiring book. That company accomplished success by not only overlooking what many people refuse to see but also wholeheartedly embracing the human spirit and the value intrinsic in that spirit. Here´s the final part of my discussion with Nancy:
Leslie: When people with disabilities earn "real" wages at a company like Habitat International, how does that affect their SSI, Medicare and Medicaid?
Nancy: In general, bringing home a paycheck does not mean a person with a disability will automatically lose her Medicare, Medicaid or other medical coverage. That stays intact. She may have to give up a portion of her SSI benefits, but if she ever stops working, she can reapply for SSI and the checks will start arriving again in a few weeks. Your local Social Security office can give specific details about the impact on a potential employee.
Leslie: What are the added costs of hiring people with disabilities?
NHW: Often, nothing at all. The second most common reason employers don´t hire people with disabilities, according to the Rutgers study, is the fear of having to spend a lot of money on workplace accommodations. The interesting thing is that, in that same survey, of the respondents who said they have actually hired a person with a disability, three-quarters said no workplace changes at all were needed. When an accommodation was necessary, the average cost was under $500 total. That´s a pretty small price to pay for a loyal, dedicated worker.
Leslie: Where does a business owner or HR manager find job candidates with disabilities?
Nancy: Contact your state or local mental health association or disability organization, especially those that help special-needs workers find jobs in the community. See if the Chamber of Commerce, manufacturers association or other professional group has a supported-employment program. Ask them for referrals and advice on how to get started. Establish a good rapport with someone you can call when you have questions. One of the best ways to find good workers with developmental disabilities is through your area´s special-education programs. Call the director of special-ed for your county´s school system and offer to host a couple of students from the high school nearest your place of business. You can also team up with a temporary placement agency where disabled workers go to find jobs. Let representatives from "regular" temp agencies know that you welcome physically and mentally challenged employees. Ask them to give you a call when an appropriate candidate applies for a position.
Leslie: What types of jobs and businesses are best suited for people with disabilities?
Nancy: Here´s where we break down the stereotypes. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. Yes, a person with mental retardation or autism or a brain injury may be better suited for a repetitive-action job that doesn´t require him to multi-task. But generally speaking, it´s just not that simple. A person with a disability might surprise you by the strength of his arms or his quick thinking or his creativity. Don´t pigeonhole an employee before you find out what he´s good at.
Leslie: What is the most important thing to keep in mind when hiring someone with a disability?
Nancy: Brush aside your own preconceived notions about what someone with a disability can or can´t do. You really can´t judge a book by its cover. We all have strengths, and it´s up to employers to take a few extra minutes to unearth those and to give people with disabilities a chance to show what they can do. The payoff could be enormous, for everyone. The only thing you have to lose is your own stereotypical view.