Five Reasons to Hire More People With Developmental Disabilities – Right Now

Young woman with Down Syndrome working at her computer in an office.

March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, and in addition to recognizing the challenges people with intellectual and developmental disabilities face, it’s even more important to understand the benefits they offer to companies and organizations of all sizes.

More and more companies – from Ernst & Young to Microsoft to Walgreens – are recognizing the value of creating a truly inclusive workforce that harnesses the talent and creativity of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

These organizations are discovering that even people with severe disabilities can make uniquely valuable contributions to their teams. In 2016, nearly 350,000 people with disabilities joined the U.S. workforce – increasing productivity, boosting morale, and bringing greater vitality and creativity to their workplaces.

So if your hiring strategy doesn’t include a concerted effort to recruit and engage with people with disabilities, your organization is missing out.

Here are five reasons to hire more people with disabilities right now:

  1. Increased Productivity. Hiring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is shown to boost overall productivity and performance. The reason is simple. The accommodations and training put in place for workers with disabilities actually benefit all employees, disabled and non-disabled alike. For example, when an auto repair shop in Rhode Island brought on Orquideo “Q,” a man with an intellectual disability, his supervisor implemented a tool-labelling system that ended up helping all of his employees be more organized and efficient. No one had to go hunting for tools because everyone knew where they were.
  2. Increase Creativity. Employees with disabilities bring a creative approach to getting things done. In all sectors of the economy, problem-solving is at a premium – and no one is better at solving problems than people who live with disability. As Lori Golden of Ernst & Young told CNN about her company’s efforts to hire people with disabilities, “By bringing people in who think differently, you’re bringing people in who look at problems differently.”
  3. Reduce Accidents. When Walgreens brought on a critical mass of people with cognitive and physical disabilities at its Connecticut and South Carolina distribution centers, the results were overwhelmingly positive – especially when it came to workplace safety. Safety incidents went down by 40 percent and overall costs associated with accidents went down 78 percent. Walgreens made a commitment to accommodating people with disabilities and in the process they made their workplace safer for everyone.
  4. Improve Morale. Employee morale is important to every organization: it reduces turnover, increases loyalty, and improves customer service. And people with disabilities offer something to their fellow employees that even the most lavish holiday party can’t: a constant source of inspiration and motivation. Working alongside someone who overcomes extraordinary challenges just to get to work in the morning helps people put their own challenges in perspective. It’s one of the reasons why employee turnover at Walgreens’ Windsor, Connecticut distribution center, where more than 40 percent of the workforce is made up of people with disabilities, was just 15 percent, compared to 55 percent at other centers.
  5. Combat Harassment and Improve Workplace Culture. The #MeToo movement has drawn long-overdue attention to the underlying conditions that perpetuate harassment and discrimination – and a lack of diversity is one of them. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission identified a lack of diversity as a risk factor for harassment because managers and employees who are unaccustomed to being around people from different backgrounds are more likely to feel threatened by people who are different from them. Hiring people of different backgrounds, including those with disabilities, helps create a healthier and more respectful workplace for everyone.

Importantly, to realize these benefits, organizations need to create a culture that truly incorporates people with disabilities in a meaningful and comprehensive way.

The good news is that by taking advantage of resources that are freely available, organizations can make these accommodations – and achieve real inclusion – at little-to-no cost.

Hiring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is unquestionably the right thing to do. But it’s also a smart business strategy that yields big returns for performance, productivity and morale.