There are a whole lot of myths about hiring people with disabilities and myths about work and disability, as well as questions about why to hire a person with a disability at all. Talking about these myths make sense – first of all, in the hope to dispel them, and also so that we know what we are up against.
Myths About Hiring People with Disabilities
1. We will miss a lot of work time because of our disability
There is a big myth going around that disabled people are all sick, and/or that we aren’t healthy!
This is easily disproved by studies provided by the National Business & Disability Council at the Viscardi Center. These studies show that people with disabilities have fewer scheduled absences than those without disabilities, and fewer days of unscheduled absences.
This makes sense; those of us who have a disability are usedto having a disability. We know what we need and we tend to be pretty clear about making sure we get it in order to stay well.
Also bear in mind that the spectrum of disability is enormous. Being unable to hear does not affect one’s health, and if you know that fluorescent lights trigger your seizures, you stay away from fluorescent lights.
2. We aren’t capable of actually doing the work
Anyone can be the wrong hire in a particular job. When hiring someone – anyone, and a person with a disability is no exception – skills and qualifications need to be assessed and relevant to the position. In other words, people should never be hired for a job they aren’t qualified for.
Of course some of us are not capable of doing certain work: Stephen Hawking would be incapable of cleaning a toilet but would be plenty capable of solving mysteries related to physics! So make sure you hire Stephen Hawking to do the physics stuff.
Since that’s a pretty obvious statement that evidently needed saying, I’m going to say something else pretty obvious: it doesn’t make sense to make determinations about how we can work by our disabilities. It only makes sense to make determinations about how we can work using the same tools you use for everyone without a disability: by our skills, qualifications, experience, and the vibes we give you in an interview.
3. We are “pity hires” – you hire us to “do the right thing”
“Do the right thing” in business means “hire a qualified person to do the job.”
There should never be “pity hires” because we are all qualified for something: so figure out what that is and that’s it.
4. We will add to an employer’s insurance
Really?! Do I need to talk about this one?? Reeeaaally? Right, I don’t. Moving on…
5. Our disability-related accommodations will cost too much
Guess what? We bring out own hearing aids, canes, wheelchairs and other disability-gizmos. We tend to cost employers less than $500 in accommodation-related things, if anything.
Most of the time, it’s nothing, absolutely nothing, I mean, NOTHING.
Most of the time, our non-disabled peers cost the same as we do, what with their need for potted plants and ergnonomic-what-have-you. When we do cost more – because we sometimes, rarely, we can! – there are a ton of programs out there to help employers foot that bill.
6. We’ll sue the employer at the drop of a hat for saying or doing the wrong thing to us
Gimme a break, seriously.
Yes, we are suing more, but yes, everyone in our society is. This isn’t something that’s disabled-centric; this is something that is emblematic of America!
So, you want to do with us what you do with everyone: be an accessible, appreciative, innovative, awesome employer who hires people for the right reasons (- namely, because they are qualified!) and treats people well. I promise, your chances of getting sue by anyone is going to be hella slim.
7. People with mental disabilities might “go postal”
As a person with a mental disability (- C-PTSD, if you must know), I’m going to let you in on a secret: you would do well to replace the worry over the girl who tells her manager she is bi-polar with the guy who is obsessed with AK-47’s and hentai manga.
In this day and age of Massive Societal Depression, it’s safer to say that pretty much everyone has some form of a mental disability than it is to say we don’t. So, employers: the best way to stay safe is to invest in making your organization a caring place that respects feelings, has a great Human Resource Development and Training department, and pays into great therapy programs.
8. People with disabilities will stay at the job forever… because we are so grateful to have a job!
I was reading something about an employer saying they wanted to hire people with disabilities because we would stay at jobs longer and I kind of shook my head there.
No. No, that’s not really true.
We don’t actually stay at jobs forever because we are so darn grateful just to have a job; we aren’t inhuman saints or angelic beings who will favor your workplace with our presence forever because, by golly, A JOB!
The vast majority of us with disabilities are going to be like like people without disabilities: we will stay in the job while we apply our skills and knowledge. We’ll move on when the time is right. We applied to work with you in the first place because it seemed like a fit to us, it matched our interests, skills and experience. We will move on when we’ve outgrown the job.
9. We don’t want to work (the feds will give us thousands of dollars and 24 hour transport)
Oh right. This is the myth that’s the same vein of lazy welfare moms. And this is total balderdash.
Most all of all us with a disability – I’m talking 99% – want to work. What trips us up are the healthcare laws that make make working not feasible for us. The solution to this is universal healthcare – so no matter what we do, we’ll have coverage (a great article about the “Glass Elevator” is linked here).
Failing that, you should know that almost all of us really and truly want to work and fulfill that human need to contribute and feel value.
You should also know that besides the good-feeling stuff about contributing and value, it make no sense to prefer federal benefits over a paycheck: the federal benefits barely keep us alive. There is NO WAY we can be successful or thrive on them. Like the mom who receives government food assistance, there is no way we can actually be financially comfortable on our benefits, let alone get ahead.
10. People with disabilities are only going to excel at things related to the 8 f’s: (food, filth, flowers, fetching, folding, filing, friendly, and festive)
This particular myth about about hiring people with disabilities and work and disability is deserving of an entire post.
There is so much to unpack here, and you know it’s all true: we usually are relegated to industries related to food, filth, flowers, fetching, folding, filing, being friendly and/or festive.
11. Disabled people only work within disability advocacy or the disability-related sector
Having a disability makes you an expert in that disability.
Having to face all the bullshit related to living in an inaccessible world that discriminates against you daily tends to make you good at fighting and knowledgeable about programs, resources and how-to’s.
But just because you are something or are good at something related to being that, doesn’t mean you have to make a career out of it! I mean, we don’t expect women to go and get degrees in Women’s Studies and go and be feminist advocates!
12. Disabled people are too difficult or too controversial for employers to take disciplinary action if needed
Repeat after me:
“If a manager cannot take disciplinary action with a disabled employee who merited it, that manager should not be a manager.“
If there is a problem in performing the work we were hired to do, we need to know! We’re not asking for some free pass or to be treated with kid gloves. We are asking to be treated with respect and dignity and given the same opportunities for advancement and mistake rectification as our non-disabled peers.
13. Disabled people require too much training and/or that the investment of time for training is too much
Not everyone with a disability needs any more training than anyone able-bodied.
For those who do, there are two types:
- Training that often has something related to accommodation/access and
- Job coaching. Job coaching is when someone with an intellectual disability has a coach who works with them one on one to understand all of the components for the job.
For extra time with figuring out components related to accommodation/access, that’s just something that you can’t change and should get easier with an organization with time and experience.
With job coaching, there is a belief that a long term job coach working 1:1 with the disabled employee is a good idea
That this is a good idea is a total fallacy; it only creates learned helplessness.
Job coaching is supposed to be short term, a set-up in which the coach helps the employee learn the ropes and figure out some extra pieces that relate to their disability. It’s not supposed to unfold forever, and if you find that’s happening, I hate to break it to you, but you are doing it wrong.
14. The disabled make the non-disabled uncomfortable
No myth there; this is totally true! We make some able-bodied people uncomfortable.
This is going to happen in any situation in which a minority is working with a majority. So, a woman working in an all-male environment or a black person working in an all-white environment will make for some discomfort.
I’m not going to excuse any of this – companies should be hiring diverse workers; their employees should reflect the real world, and the real world is diverse! Get with it already and figure out how to ease out that discomfort and make the presence of disability in any given workplace something that is ordinary.
Hiring People with Disabilities and People with Disabilities Working
You know, we are not actually asking for all that much –
All we really want is a chance – a level playing field where we can kick some ass, contribute and do a little office dancing.
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.