Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Disabled Workers; Employer Fears Are Groundless

Excerpted from Business Week Diversity October 2, 2009, 1:18PM EST
Ralph Braun*

Studies show that hiring the disabled does not lead to higher accommodation costs, worker comp, or sick leave, yet these myths persist. Technology closes the gap.

Recent data indicate that the economy is starting to stabilize, which is good news for millions of jobless Americans. While it's no comfort that the unemployment rate has pushed past the 9% level in recent months, it has actually edged down from 9.5% in July, to 9.3% in August for Americans without any physical disability. For people with disabilities, the jobless situation has been catastrophically worse. In the fist year the government has kept such data, unemployment has soared month by month, rising from 15.1% in July to 16.9% in August. Worse, if precedent is any indication of future trends, many people with physical disabilities still may not be able to find work in the impending recovery.

Even in times of economic abundance, many working-age Americans with disabilities remain out of work. A 2008 DePaul University study showed that only 40% of the more than 21 million working-age adults with disabilities are employed, either full- or part-time. Why? Statistics show that employers assume it would be challenging to hire people with special needs, including those who use wheelchairs, are legally blind, hard-of-hearing, or have other physical disabilities.

As a business owner and employer who uses a wheelchair, I know firsthand that having a physical disability shouldn't exclude someone from becoming a fully productive member of the U.S. workforce. But it's alarming to learn of how many employers do not share this attitude. The Labor Dept.'s 2008 Survey of Employer Perspectives on the Employment of People with Disabilities found that companies fear that hiring people with disabilities will lead to higher employment costs and lower profit margins. In the same survey, company executives also expressed concern that workers with disabilities lack the job skills and experience necessary to perform as well as their non-disabled counterparts. Employers were also uncertain about how to take potential disciplinary action with a worker with disabilities.

*Ralph Braun is CEO of BraunAbility in Winamac, Ind.

posted by AtWork! at


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