Why hire someone with a disability?
When employers are asked this question, they usually strum up some stuff about “doing the right thing” or “being inclusive.” Sometimes it will hover over to “retention,” sort of like being that if you hire someone with a disability, gosh darn it, they’ll be so grateful, they’ll just stay working for you forever, so you won’t have to pay as much with retention and recruitment!
…that makes no sense
All of that boils down to hogwash in the end, because you know as well as I do that there is no such thing as “doing the right thing” when you hire someone. You hire people you like, people you think are capable and qualified to do the job, and that’s it, full stop.
Furthermore, employees are not going to look around and be like, “oh geez, Ernst & Young hired another deaf guy, I think I love them and want to work extra hard for them because they hire people just like me!“
That being the case, let’s take another look at why anyone should hire a person with a disability.
1. Our Numbers
People with disabilities – I’m talking across the entire disability spectrum (deaf, blind, low vision, intellectual disability, neurodiverse, physically disabled, learning disabled, etc) represented some 19% of the US American population in 2010.
Now, that was 8 years ago, so you know that number has only gone up – you also know that many people were not even counted on the original number.
Americans with disabilities make up a huge portion of the population.
What that means to me as an HR professional, is that certain careers are going to be really wanting/needing the perspectives and voices from the disability community.
Take marketing for example.
You saw what happened when Target started including kids with Down syndrome in their ads, right? The ads went viral, business boomed from within the target population, so much so that Target went and developed an Adaptive Clothing Line.
It makes sense to me that any and all businesses will want to have actual people with disabilities on their marketing teams to lend their professional perspectives on where and how to include us with disabilities in marketing campaigns. You are going to have Latinx, Asian and African-American on your teams, because no white dude can give accurate information on how to reach those populations.
Well, you can’t get accurate information on how to reach disabled populations – those 57+ million Americans with change to chunk – unless and until you really bring them and their expertise on board to your teams.
2. Our culture
This is where it can get a little weird, because of disability being (as they say) the only minority group anyone can join at any time.
There is a big difference between people born with their disabilities (or having acquired them very young) and those who become disabled as adults.
Those of us who grew up disabled tend to be savvy problem solvers. We have had to work hard all of our lives to figure stuff out, to be included, to make change, to attend that class, to get through that door. We’re also used to our respective disabilities. We know what types of accommodation we need, we know the flow.
This does need to be taken with the generational piece though, because, just like with the non-disabled, we have some pretty big differences between the baby-boomers who grew up with disabilities, gen x, y, the millennials and gen z’s coming around.
So, when you are looking at the disability community, you have to remember that cultural layers exist in our community, just as it does in every other mainstream community.
Within the disabled community though, there is culture. There are norms.
I hesitate to talk about the norms because I don’t want to promote stereotypes or the notions that we are what we call, “super crips.” Every person with a disability should be allowed the inalienable right to have really boring, dull lives without having to ever prove anything or be objectified as being “more than” on the basis of their disability (or worse, being an “inspiration” on the basis of their disability).
One of the norms, though, is being out-of-the-box thinkers.
Not all of us are. But a lot of us are.
We can’t help it, really, because we naturally think, hear, see, move, perceive, feel and sensate the world in ways that are less mainstream than most. We can’t help but be able to understand things that people without disabilities can’t.
Any HR professional worth their salt wants this on their team. Different perspectives and out of the box thinking equal new solutions to the same problems. It means being able to reach new audiences, it means an expanded market, it means MORE MONEY for the company.
3. Who we are and what that means
I chose this image as the featured image for this post because this is actually a hell of a lot more descriptive of a lot of people with disabilities than the one with the suited guy using a wheelchair.
The vast majority of those of us with disabilities have non-visible disabilities.
Now, as I’ve said, a “disability” is a particular way of seeing, hearing, moving, feeling, thinking, sensating, learning (for more on the definition, read this post).
The numbers of our population grow every day, often with the inclusion of new disabilities. Our culture – both disabled and mainstream – likewise evolve. Lady Gaga comes out as having fibromyalgia, Mariah Carey is bipolar and Halle Berry is nearly completely deaf in one ear. The list of famous people with depression and mental illness is a mile long.
What does this mean?
It means that disability – both non-visible as well as visible – is a part of the big ticket now. It means that when you include disability as a component of diversity into your hiring initiatives, and when you value what disability brings to the table by dint of hiring someone with a disability, you are making a statement that you (as an organization) are growing, moving and evolving with the times.
4. Access: Go beyond “wheelchair thinking”
One of the most important things is for you yourself to challenge the way you construct “disability” in and of itself.
You have got to get your mind out of “wheelchair thinking” – we don’t all use wheelchairs, quit thinking we do. We don’t all need particular types of access; quit thinking you know what we need (we will tell you when the time comes, so don’t jump ahead of yourself there).
In that reframing of your “wheelchair thinking,” consider what good HR is really about. Good HR is about creating an environment in which people’s knowledge, skills and talents are being used to the best of their capacity. It’s about strengthening your organization through diverse expertise.
When you work with anyone in your organization within an HR context, you need to figure out how that person best works. The beauty of working with people with disabilities is that most people with disabilities know that already.
That is, we already know what we need to do well at work – we’ve had years of trial and error at school, years of honing our accommodation needs and access requirements. We make it easier for an organization to work with us by dint of our ability to articulate what we need.
People without disabilities, by contrast, also have needs but lack the experience of having to articulate or hone their needs, so often cause more hiccups with managers than a person with a disability would.
So access needs are actually a positive, not a negative.
So, Why hire someone with a disability?
First of all, hire someone with a disability because they are qualified for the job.
Hire someone with a disability because you think outside the box and appreciate others who do, too.
Hire us because we bring a unique perspective to the table.
Hire us because you care about your bottom line and you realize that we can help you meet your goals.
Hire us because we’ll probably make your life a little easier.
Hire us for our good looks. Hire us for our sheet talent. Hire us cuz we made you think. Hire us for all of these reasons and more – but don’t hire us because it’s the “right thing to do”; it’s not.
It’s just the smart thing to do.