Busting Myths About Hiring People with Disabilities
As the subject of disability inclusion in the workforce becomes more prevalent, I wanted to take a closer look at some of the myths surrounding the hiring of people with disabilities, and to seek the insights of someone on the front lines of this movement. As the Head of Disability Inclusion at JPMorgan Chase & Co., and a C5-C6 quadriplegic, Jim Sinocchi’s knowledge and experience with this topic is unparalleled. Sinocchi thinks and speaks in terms that challenge and change how people with disabilities see and present themselves in the workforce; as well as how employers and colleagues perceive, interact with, and assimilate people with disabilities into their corporate cultures. Through an emphasis on professionalism, partnership, equalizing the playing field, enhancing performance, and opportunities for promotions, Sinocchi dispels the myths about hiring people with disabilities; and provides guidance for ensuring success for employee, employer, and colleagues alike:
1. Cost to accommodate is too exorbitant.
If we’re thinking about the cost of accommodations when hiring top talent in the form of a person with a disability, we’re focusing on the wrong thing. Enlightened companies think, “What do I have to do to hire this exceptional person?”
According to national and international research on this topic, most accommodations cost less than $500. Granted, facility or real estate accommodations, such as widening doors, adjusting elevator buttons, adding braille inscriptions, installing ramps, and restroom modifications, exceed that benchmark. However, we’re now seeing newly constructed or remodeled buildings incorporate universal design standards, which ensure the greatest accessibility and accommodations for a building’s population - including lighting and noise considerations for individuals on the autism spectrum.
2. More apt to require and exceed sick days.
Studies provided by the National Business & Disability Council at the Viscardi Center, have reported people with disabilities had fewer scheduled absences than those without disabilities, and fewer days of unscheduled absences.
One explanation for this is that employees with disabilities have established routines, and focus on their health so as to keep their jobs, and not give an employer a reason to fire them.
If someone experiences a setback regarding their disability, they may need more time to recover. However, in my experience, people with disabilities in the workforce know how to manage their disability, and likely need the same amount of days as an able-bodied person requires.
Each situation should be considered individually. If a company has a reliable employee who needs more time off, an enlightened company gives the person a reasonable amount of time off as medically necessary, or as a reasonable accommodation. This sends the message to other employees that says “we care about our employees and will provide the appropriate amount of time needed to get better.”
3. Too difficult / controversial for employers to take disciplinary action.
If a manager will not coach, mentor, or take disciplinary action regarding a disabled employee who merited such an action, that manager shouldn’t be a manager. As an employee, I want to be treated as other employees are treated – if I do something wrong or don’t meet my goals, tell me and evaluate me accordingly. If I do well, and exceed expectations and goals, reward me.
Disabled employees should be treated the same as able-bodied employees – with respect and dignity; as well as given opportunities for advancement and coaching when required. Treating employees with disabilities with “kid gloves” creates a standard that’s not good for the general population of employees, or the person with a disability.
4. Employers are more likely to be sued.
We live in a litigious society, and people in general have become more apt to sue if they believe they have been wronged. According to the EEOC, the percentage of disability charges has steadily increased from 22% in 2008 to 30.7% in 2016.
However, suing an employer is not the first thing people with disabilities think about when they have grievances. While most disabled employees understand their rights under the law, they would rather work in an organization that is fair and equitable; and they want to be loyal and productive at work. It’s difficult in today’s marketplace to find a job as a disabled candidate - this means that we’re not quick to leave an organization, which took a chance with us. Most of us are grateful to work for a company that recognizes our talent and the contributions we make.
5. People with disabilities make those around them uncomfortable.
People naturally feel uncomfortable with people they don’t know. And when you add a disability, that can be more challenging – for both parties. That’s one reason why employers should implement an efficient accommodations process to equip people with disabilities to work independently.
People with disabilities also have to do a better job making able-bodied people comfortable when meeting us. We must “own our disability,” do a better job of allowing others to engage with us socially, and share our stories in the workplace.
There were times in my career when I failed to get a person to accept me. Yet, it was my responsibility to find a way to build professional working relationships with even those who had a visceral reaction to me. But there have been dozens of other people I’ve worked with, befriended, and developed relationships with over the years.
The most important points are to be respectful, approachable, qualified for the job, presentable, and business-oriented.
6. Unable to meet performance standards
If an individual can’t meet performance standards, that’s a problem regardless of whether or not they have a disability. That’s why accommodations are so important. Everyone should be qualified to do the job they’re hired to do. And if that means an individual needs a specific, reasonable accommodation to do their best, then it should be provided.
An employee who’s falling behind in their work, needs to take the time to meet with their manager and find out exactly what they need to do to improve, just as any other employee would. Address problems as quickly as possible, and get the help needed to improve. These strategies have nothing to do with a disability, but everything to do with being professional.
7. More likely to have an accident at work.
Again, the data says this is not true. Safety comes first, across the board. People with disabilities usually know their weaknesses, and avoid exposure to danger and accidents. A manager should also assess the circumstances impacting their employee’s particular disability by:
Asking the person with the disability what they think they need to become successful, and consulting with HR personnel to assess the employee’s circumstances and any concerns in performing a job.
Taking a fresh look at the work environment to make sure it’s free of obstacles or other workplace concerns. This may include checking with fire, safety, and facilities teams.
Implementing necessary changes after the assessment.
8. Investment of time for training is too much.
In some cases, the time to train or make an environment accessible can be longer than that for an able-bodied employee. But the important question is whether the disabled person is qualified to do the work, and competitive in terms of what the job requires. The person with a disability might be better qualified than the able-bodied person, but requires extra, “reasonable” time to train. That should be acceptable, with or without an accommodation, and will allow a manager to build a strong relationship with the employee, sending the right message throughout the business.