Why is there so much reluctance to hire people who are differently-abled? Part IV of a Series

by Edward Henkler on March 21, 2013

A wonderful friend of mine, Deb Dagit, taught me about the term differently-abled (DA), and I think it’s marvelous.

 Deb Dagit Diversity

Deb notes that the term is somewhat controversial in the U.S. disability advocacy population, as it may sound too cute or marketing oriented.  Global companies often employ the term as disability translates as not valued or less valued in other languages, including Spanish.  Regardless of the term you use, I challenge you to expand your thinking if you want your company to win in the marketplace.  Who would you most want by your side if the lights went out in a skyscraper?  My preference is for someone who is blind; for them, nothing will have changed and they’ll be able to calmly lead me out of the building.

Unemployment rates are quite high nowadays, perhaps even into the double digits, dependent on the source of information.  Clearly a problem, until you consider that unemployment amongst individuals who are blind or low vision is in excess of 70%.  Why are employers so reluctant to hire people who are differently-abled?  Perhaps they don’t know what the other person is thinking and perhaps their preconceptions are getting in the way.  Even for employers that exhibit a willingness to hire people who are DA, some of them may just be doing it because it’s the “right” thing to do.  Individuals who are DA aren’t seeking altruism.  They know for a fact that they can contribute to business development and by adding cognitive diversity to almost any team.

Let’s look at the facts:

  • People who are differently-abled are one of the fastest growing demographics in the world, ~ 750 million in ’09 with baby boomers likely to drive that number much higher
  • $220B in discretionary income in the U.S. in ‘09
  • $3T in discretionary income globally in ’09, according to the National Organization on Disabilities

Few organizations embrace this constituency, creating a very significant opportunity for companies that authentically engage them.  The term authentically is overused but seems appropriate in this instance.  It’s not about words but actions.  It means that you need to hire employees who are differently-abled, consider them in your product packaging and labeling, and consider them in your R&D as well as community outreach.

If business development is insufficient, then you might consider the value they’ll bring to your teams.  A key factor in creating innovative teams is to recruit for cognitive diversity.  It may cause moments of discomfort but it will also dramatically increase the set of possibilities which are considered.  Someone who is blind, deaf, or uses a wheelchair will perceive very different solutions from someone without these differences.  Consider Phil Hansen, an artist whose shaking hands forced him to identify creative alternatives to pursuing his passion.

Just think, do the right thing and you’ll tangibly reap the benefits – doesn’t get much better than that!

Additional resources:

  • Assistance with hiring individuals who are differently-abled
  • The Gabriel Institute teamability process – assessing “best fit” roles
  • SSB BART Group – Accessibility on Demand
  • Pennsylvania Business Leadership Network is an employer driven program designed for business leaders to promote hiring practices that enable qualified people with disabilities to enter and succeed in the workplace.  See more
  • US BLN – The US Business Leadership Network (USBLN®) is a national non-profit, non-partisan business to business network promoting workplaces, marketplaces, and supply chains where people with disabilities are included.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Christy Harrison May 17, 2013 at 8:33 pm

This is wonderful! Thanks so much!

Christy Harrison

Christine Tyson Harrison, Founder/CEO
Network Visions LLC – A Social Enterprise
Government eRecords/IT By Disabled Veterans
Disabled/Woman Owned Small Business
Washington DC


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