Trapped in a box.

Marisa Keegan Culture, Marisa Keegan

I talk about The Deaf Kid a lot – My brother, my partner in crime, the kid who inspired presentations like The Time Farts Made Noise, and Dysfunction at Disney – killer titles which I deliver to esteemed business leaders. He is also the guy who got an iPod as recognition from his manager (score!), and the one who got his job because his employer wanted to check a box showing they had hired their quota of disabled people (score?).

That’s right, my brother works for a company that is a household name and when he interviewed for his job almost fifteen years ago someone dropped the bomb that they needed to hire a disabled employee and he was the one.

My brother was taken aback.

My parents thought it was great.

Their theory was that if my brother was given an opportunity to get his foot in the door at a successful company, with great benefits, willing to pay off his student loans, all because he was deaf then there was no reason to over analyze it. Especially if he was willing to work hard and work his way up.

However, I think hiring someone to check a box is the dumbest idea ever. It only gets worse when the government tells employers that they have to prove this check mark if they want to work with the government which is exactly what the Department of Labor is trying to do. According to Fast Company (Jan 2013 issue), the DOL is trying to pass a new regulation stating that, “…any company with a federal contract worth $10,000 or more has to give 7% of its jobs to people with disabilities”.

Dear Federal Government,

Dumbest idea ever. You do something similar with your recruiting practices and let me tell you how that’s working out for you. My friend Mariah works for you and in her jail cell cubicle is a blind man who knows he was hired to check a box. He also knows that because he is blind no one will fire him. For the past five years, instead of doing any work, he has chosen to sleep, do sit-ups, read the comics, sleep some more, and whistle loudly. When his managers and teammates ask him to help on projects he says ‘no’ and likes to remind them of his disability and their inability to fire him. Maybe instead of being so concerned with checking a box you should hire people who are passionate, motivated, and excited about the job you need done – disability or not. And fire those who aren’t –

disability or not.

Best – MK

Okay, rant over.

There are a number of arguments for hiring employees with disabilities (without the need to check a box). Here are five off the top of my head…

  1. This check-box mentality causes organizations to think about the best way to work the system. I need to hire someone with a disability? I wonder if I could find someone to sit in the basement with a red stapler that we can pay minimum wage to stay out of the way and not mess anything up.
  1. Companies should be hiring disabled people to join their organizations for the same reason we hire everyone else – they talented, so we want them to do lots of work and in turn make us lots of money.
  2. Disabilities can be viewed as a way to use stereotyping to your advantage. Did you know that, “…autistic people often have the ability to focus on repetitive tasks for long periods of time – a valuable skill for line workers (Heather Davis, Fast Company)”? Deaf kids are turning to computers at very young ages and are flocking to technical universities like the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, which is part of the nationally known Rochester Institute of Technology. They make awesome software developers  – a skillset that just happens to be in high-demand….
  3. They people, just like you and me. People often tread lightly around people with disabilities, afraid of hurting their feelings or of saying something wrong but all of your employees want you to give honest and not always positive feedback. You know, they’re people too, and they want the opportunity to grow, learn, and add value to your organization just like everyone else.
  4. Despite what you’ve read, you can fire a disabled person too. Every company should have a process they use to help employees who are falling behind. You know, setting goals, meetings with managers, having tough conversations and documenting it. Use that same process with everyone and you won’t have any problems – unless of course firing that disabled person means you have to un-check a box that the government is requiring you to check. Then you’re screwed and you have to let that person sit around, unproductive and adding no value until you can find someone else who can check in that box for you.

What about you, what argument would you make for/against hiring disabled or handicapped candidates? Let’s chat in the comments…

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Marisa Keegan
Marisa is a Culture Coach for small and quickly growing organizations trying to establish the infrastructure required to create a company full of passionate, motivated, and engaged employees. She has held culture and engagement roles for two nationally recognized great places to work, founded the research and networking group Culture Fanatics, and is an industry recognized blogger. She lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband and twin boys and is looking forward to the day she can bike across the country to raise money for MS research. @marisakeegan.