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September 25, 2007

Employ Individuals with Disabilities

Sometimes it’s sad to see people who can look at a job loss, a temporary income setback or a career change as a devastating event. In your life transitions sit back and look at how good you have it. For many of us we have the intellectual capability, use of our limbs and face pretty minor health challenges along the way through what I call our worklife mission. Step back, look at and appreciate those who may not have all that you do in your time of need. I have sometimes admonished my six-figure, high powered executive level clients on this issue and they know it. I emplore them to volunteer and change their selfish focus to what they need to do for others. Those who accumulate wealth have great influence. Whether you have great wealth you can add to you or your real life street cred by educating yourself on how to help those with greater needs. Can we agree that those with disabilities have greater needs? Here’s a primer to educate you or your employer.

Maybe a few facts and myths should be destroyed. I wonder if you new that approximately one in five working age Americans from age 16 to 64 has at least one disability? Remember I am not talking about a few pounds of extra weight or that you are taking some pharmaceutical product for nerves either. Here are the facts as I have obtained from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The 2000 U.S. Census says it’s 33.2 million people. To cast a wider net realize that the Census also says that some level of disability exists in 49.7 million people.

The National Federation of Independent Business survey of small businesses reported difficulty in filling open positions. Disability means you are talking about young, old, any color, creed or religion. Talk about a diverse population. I concur with the point that the Chamber makes – individuals with disabilities remain a relatively untapped pipeline of workers.

Sadly, high unemployment hurts those with disabilities. Like a lot of business problems and personal problems I feel strongly that it comes down to lack of education. So if you are a business owner you lose because people with disabilities represent a large source of qualified workers.

Let me ask employers a few questions:

Did you know that workers with disabilities represent a solid source of productivity? According to all the surveys reported, they are not job hoppers and they remain in their current jobs longer than the general workforce.

Did you know that overcoming and working with a disability often means that the person you may employ with a disability has the critical thinking capacity to overcome problems? They also understand the nuances of and important communication skills.

Did you now that workplace accommodations are generally not expensive, the a March 2003 Work Trends report  found that 73% of employers reported that their workers with disabilities did not require accommodations. A lot of times employers just need to make flexible work schedule accommodations and almost nothing else. For those who you must make accommodations for you need to consider the ROI and the person. What you perceive you may give up may be made up by other benefits not just good will. For example, Vocational Rehabilitation services in North Carolina (www.ncdhhs.gov/dvrs/) point out that you can:

1. Minimize Turnover
2. Cut Your Hiring Costs
3. Cut Your Training Costs
4. Get No-Cost Follow Up
5. Qualify for One or More Tax Breaks
6. Retain Valuable Workers

By the way getting information on how to hire people with disabilities is easy and available at little or not cost. Call the local DBTAC office and visit https://www.disability.gov to start.

All states have tons of critical information that’s easy to obtain. In North Carolina or your state you can find even more information about:

A. Tax Incentives for Employers by looking at Work Opportunity Tax Credit (see Conditional Certification Form ETA 9062 and IRS Form 8850)
B. Diabled Access Tax Credit for businesses with $1 million or less in gross receipts or fewer than 30 full-time employees (look at the ADA Accessibility Guidelines-they must be met and look at the general business credit using IRS Form 8862 when filing taxes)
C. Architectural/Transportation Barrier Removal for businesses that remove physical, structural, and transportation barriers for persons with disabilities; this means you may be eligible for up to $15,000 of deductions annually if you follow the ADA Accessibility Guidelines and the instructions in IRS Publications 907 and 535 entitles Business Expenses
D. Welfare to Work Tax Credit means that employers who hire long-term Family Assistance or TANF recipients who received benefits for 18 consecutives months prior to last date of hire mean that you have up to 35% of up to the first $10,000 in wages and more the second year; look at completing steps for WOTC by checking box #4 on IRS Form 8850 and complete ETA Form 9061 (items 7-17).

Don’t take my word for it. Check with your accountants and attorneys folks.

Let’s just knock down a few more myths while we are at it:

Did you know that saying the wrong thing in the workplace will not offend most employees with disabilities? Marian Vessels of the ADA and IT Information Center for the Mid-Atlantic Region says: We see the fear factor in many employers. They are worried about saying the wrong thing, embarrassing themselves, or setting themselves up for a lawsuit. But that’s not the case at all. People with disabilities know that others don’t know the language. It’s okay to say walk to someone who uses a wheelchair or to say see to someone who is blind. Don’t you think they are tough? Do you think they haven’t heard it before? Did you know that it is a total myth that hiring people with disabilities makes businesses vulnerable to litigation. SHRM reported in a 2003 survey, 91% of respondents indicated that they were not aware of any ADA complaints filed against their companies in the last 12 months.

From all the research it’s simply a myth that co-workers will be uncomfortable and their productivity will be negatively impacted. In fact, it’s proven, according to the U.S. Chamber, that Workers with disabilities have a positive effect on co-workers. The U.S. Department of Education’s Jennifer Sheehy states that someone who manages a disability on the job simply raises morale and provides a good working environment for everyone.

Even though my business focuses on executive and boutique outplacement services I have always been willing to serve those who have ambition, drive and who are not perfect. Since no one is perfect it’s a pretty large population. Part of my worklife mission involves educating and empowering others who may not be reached by me or my business. So many employers have taken advantage of and educated themselves on the win-win of hiring people with disabilities. It’s time for you to do the same.

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