When Hiring a Worker With a Disability, Focus on the Person, Not the Disability

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine  

Jan. 14 --Becoming known as an organization that is truly friendly to those with disabilities involves a change in mindset, according to an advocate and an HR specialist.

“One very clear first step is for HR professionals to themselves get educated on abilities and how to interact with people who have differing abilities,” Lori Golden, access abilities leader at accounting firm EY (formerly Ernst & Young), said in a Jan. 13 interview with Bloomberg BNA. “Be aware of the person first and the disability second--not a blind manager, but a manager who is blind.”

Employers should “find out what people's abilities are and play to their strengths,” Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbilityUSA, a disabilities advocacy organization, said in a separate Jan. 13 interview. “Somebody with Asperger's might be the best person to do finances in your office. A blind person could be a wonderful proofreader because of the great reading software available now.”

More generally, Mizrahi suggested designating an “accommodations coordinator.” Many accommodations are simple and inexpensive, she pointed out, adding that the Walgreen drugstore chain has estimated it spends less than $50 per person on accommodations for the disabled.

Sending Out Message of Inclusiveness

To attract job candidates with disabilities, Golden said, it is important that the organization signal its openness to such people “by the messages you send, by the way you portray yourself on your website. Let people know you welcome people with diverse abilities. Show people with apparent disabilities in company materials--not 'calling them out,' but showing them in the normal course of images.”

Organizational websites also should point candidates to the employer's group for persons with disabilities, if there is one, and explain how to ask for accommodations in interviews, Golden said. Beyond that, training is essential, she said. At EY, inclusiveness training is mandatory for everyone above the manager level, Golden said. “We're not necessarily calling it out as different or special, but weaving it into how people think,” she said.

Organizations should “create an environment that feels supportive by devoting resources to employee networks, resources groups, resources to distribute educational materials, and resources on policies and practices,” Golden said. This will help show that the organization goes beyond the minimum legal requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, she said. Another example from EY, Golden said, is the existence of a policy on meetings and events that goes well beyond what is required, dealing with everything from how food is served to how to allow persons with disabilities to participate comfortably.

Survey Finds Continued Obstacles

More than six in 10 persons with disabilities who lack full-time work (62 percent) would like to increase their hours but face significant barriers, according to a survey RespectAbility sponsored.

The greatest barrier preventing the disabled from finding a job with competitive wages is health or medical issues--the response of 38 percent of those who have at least some college or an associates degree and 33 percent of those with a high school education or less, according to the poll, which reached 1,969 persons with disabilities. RespectAbility released the results Jan. 10 in an e-mailed statement and teleconference.

By Martin Berman-Gorvine  

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at mbermangorvine@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at snadel@bna.com