Our Spotlight Interview saga continues with a new feature! With discussions of inclusivity and equality on the rise both in our society and the workplace, we partnered up with Sandy Jordan, the Director of Employment Programs at Able South Carolina, to sit down and discuss the biggest barriers that employers face when hiring an employee with disabilities and how to overcome them. The answers might shock you!
The interview included such questions as:
What challenges can employers expect when hiring employees with disabilities?
Is your physical and digital business space accessible for people with disabilities?
Is your interview process set up for all employee candidates?
As at least 17% of the workforce in America today have a disability (whether that disability is visible or not) this conversation is vital to employers seeking to offer equal opportunities to all potential hires. Check out our questions for Sandy below, followed by her answers as summarized in our video interview.
Tell us about Able SC and how your employment program benefits both workers with disabilities and employers looking for new hires.
Able South Carolina is a disability rights nonprofit. We work with individuals with all disabilities and partner with them to support them in leading their most independent life. As a center for independent living, the majority (over 80%) of our staff are people with disabilities. This gives us a lived experience advantage. For our consumers, we connect with them because we have faced the same struggles and barriers they have faced.
We work with individuals to help them build employment skills (preparing for an interview, exploring career options, etc.) and teaching them their employment rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). We empower them to become their own self-advocates and proud of their disability.
For employers looking to hire people with disabilities, we offer so much more than just sharing job postings. Since we are people with disabilities, we offer firsthand knowledge on disability and employment. Through our Able Access program, we offer training, policy reviews, and accessibility assessments to ensure a business is inclusive to people with disabilities.
We work one-on-one with employers to help them navigate accommodation requests and provide technical assistance. Because of our collaborative relationships with other service providers, we regularly connect employers with agencies such as SC Vocational Rehabilitation or SC Department of Disabilities and Special Needs to help them expand their talent pool of people with disabilities.
What are some of the key challenges employers can expect when looking to hire a differently-abled employee?
I would encourage employers not to automatically expect challenges from employees with a disability, any more than they would expect an adjustment period for any employee. That is part of the bias that exists for people with disabilities. If you hire a new candidate automatically expecting challenges, you will often find challenges.
However, if you have an open mind and do not make automatic assumptions, you may be surprised to discover a hardworking, dedicated talent pool that is often overlooked.
Employers may lack experience in interacting with people with disabilities or be uneducated in reasonable accommodations or the ADA. That is why Able SC exists; we help employers learn more about disability to relieve their fears so that people with disabilities are not overlooked for positions.
How can an employer ensure that their business is accessible and inclusive?
There are concrete things that an employer can do to ensure their business is accessible, such as partnering with an agency like Able SC to provide accessibility assessments to ensure their physical and digital spaces are accessible. Employers can also make sure they are reaching out to people with disabilities by including them in their marketing and hiring campaigns. A simple statement on the business’s job portal saying something like, “People with disabilities are encouraged to apply,” goes a long way in showing that a company is welcoming to people with disabilities.
Beyond those suggestions, it is essential that when an employer hires a person with a disability, they don’t stop there. Along with being unemployed, a lot of people with disabilities are underemployed. People with disabilities should have the same achievement opportunities as those without disabilities, and if an employee is using a reasonable accommodation on the job, an employer should regularly follow up to ensure the accommodation is still beneficial. Ongoing training for all staff on disability etiquette and sensitivity can help decrease other’s unconscious bias around disability.
Each employer has their own usual standard for recruiting for positions, including standard interview questions and testing. What should employers be looking to change in this area in order to make the hiring process more accessible for those with different abilities?
First and foremost, an employer must make sure the process is accessible for a variety of candidates with different disabilities. Having people with visual disabilities, learning disabilities, hearing disabilities, etc. go through the interview and testing the process will give you an understanding of what changes to make to ensure the process is accessible for all.
Having an alternative way to interview can be beneficial for some people with disabilities such as those with autism and intellectual/developmental disabilities. This can include a potential candidate showing a video or having a visual resume with photos to show the job tasks they can perform. This could be in lieu of a traditional interview and can be a reasonable accommodation.
We also encourage employers to review their essential job functions and minimum qualifications. For example, we often find employers have a requirement of a high school diploma without realizing that many people with disabilities were not afforded the opportunity to receive a diploma. However, many could still perform the essential job functions if given the chance.
Employers may often feel that the challenges associated with bringing on differently-abled persons are too much; what can we do to help overcome such resistance?
Having an open mind and discovering your own unconscious bias against people with disabilities is critical. Not automatically assuming that there will be challenges to hiring people with disabilities is critical.
The majority of disabilities are invisible, which means that an employer doesn’t automatically know that the person has a disability unless that individual discloses it. Research shows that 1 out of 4 people have a disability, so employers likely have more people with disabilities on staff than they know.
Another misconception is that all people with disabilities require accommodations and that those accommodations are costly. In reality, not all individuals require accommodations and for those that do, employers note that 59% of those accommodations cost nothing, while the majority that have a cost are under $500.
Employers may also assume that because someone has a disability, they cannot be as productive as those without disabilities. That is a myth. Employers consistently rate employees with disabilities as average or above average in performance, attendance, and safety.
What is one thing employers can do to support persons with disabilities in their workplace?
Current employees with disabilities should be treated with respect and dignity just like any other employee. They want their employers to believe in them and not make assumptions about what they can and cannot do. Give people with disabilities the opportunity to prove themselves and opportunities for achievements when appropriate.
When employers create initiatives around diversity and inclusion, make sure disability is not being left out. If companies have employee resource groups (ERGs), make sure to build one around disability.
Have open and honest conversations around any support that may be needed. These practices will help people with disabilities feel more comfortable and feel valued in the workplace.
There are a lot of talented people who have varying abilities. How do employers attract and retain people with disabilities? What are some of the invisible barriers to employment for these individuals?
There are numerous ways employers can attract people with disabilities. Employers can partner with agencies like Centers for Independent Living and Vocational Rehabilitation to discover talent with disabilities. Employers can also partner with their local community college or university which often has a disability services department.
Employers can also showcase their current employees with disabilities who are successful at work. This can help candidates with disabilities feel that they would be welcomed and that their disability is seen as a positive aspect and not a negative one.
Employers can help retain people with disabilities by making sure they feel comfortable and valued. Ensuring that HR professionals, managers, and coworkers have an understanding of disability and are accommodating to the individual can be very impactful.
The biggest invisible barrier to employment for people with disabilities is unconscious bias against people with disabilities. As a society, we were taught that people with disabilities need to be cared for and that they can’t be independent. That goes against what we think of someone who is successfully employed; we picture someone who is independent and able to care for themselves.
We need to change the narrative about people with disabilities and understand that they don’t need to be taken care of but instead need to be supported just like anyone else. Disability or not, nobody does their job without support or assistance.
How can we encourage more employers to hire workers with disabilities?
The most valuable marketing tool is employers talking to other employers, so I encourage employers to speak to their peers about the importance of hiring people with disabilities. Employers should share their success stories and talk to others about how they have worked through barriers they faced with hiring and onboarding people with disabilities. This will help other employers feel more comfortable and more willing to consider hiring people with disabilities.
You can learn more about Able South Carolina by visiting their website at www.able-sc.org
You can also learn about the South Carolina statewide campaign to decrease employment barriers for people with disabilities, Hire Me SC, at www.hiremesc.org At the Hire Me SC website, there are resources for employers on the employer tab.
Finally, you can connect directly with Sandy Jordan by email at firstname.lastname@example.org