The Lies We Tell: Are You Really Open to Reasonable Accommodations?

Mark Fogel Hiring Bias, Mark Fogel, Talent Acquisition

Did you know only 19.3% of persons with a disability were employed in 2019? These sobering numbers are courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. What does that number tell us? That there is a great deal of talent available to fill your openings!

We all know untapped resources for talent exist, including individuals with minor challenges and disabilities. With a little support, e.g. an accommodation, these individuals can provide tremendous contributions to an organization. As HR Pros, it is especially important for us to consider expanding our outreach efforts and recognize the benefits of hiring those who may need a reasonable accommodation. 

But collectively we do not. Many of us never have and with the lingering effects of COVID, we may not address this subject for months or years to come.

We talk about most formerly taboo subjects in the Talent world here on FOT. Racism, sexism, ageism and even a smidge of politics. Especially yours truly.

Yet for some reason, Talent folks skip the conversation about hiring those with disabilities. My perspective is that it is one of the last taboos in the HR world. Occasionally, it pops up as a feel-good article in SHRM magazine or one of the dozens of niche HR publications. They even put the topic on the main stage at SHRM 19 for a brief 10 minutes.

Think about that employed number from BLR, less then 20% with disabilities are working and many are underemployed. No other group comes even close. Not by a long shot.

We spend a lot of energy talking about engagement, loyalty, turnover and Corporate Social Responsibility. Last time I checked, this is a group of individuals who check all the boxes for these topics in a positive way.

My first real introduction to working with employees in need of minor accommodations was about 15 years ago, as I visited my employer’s western distribution center in Reno, Nevada. I met a very pleasant part-time employee; we will call her Sue for this article. Sue had Downs Syndrome and was in her late 30’s. She lived in a group home and came to our organization via a local municipal program placing individuals with some challenges in business settings along with a job coach paid for by the government. Sue’s main job was to sort returned products, and then repackage item’s that passed quality control for restocking. When I first met her, she greeted me with a big hello. She introduced herself and showed me what she did for the company.

Sue took great pride in her work. She was meticulous and worked extremely hard. Everyone in the distribution center knew her and respected her work ethic and loved the joy she brought to work each day. From a productivity standpoint, she met and often exceeded the amount of work for any employee in her role. When she first started, the job coach helped a little, but was there more to assist with social aspects and ensuring she was able to navigate getting to and from work each day.

As I returned to the DC every 3 to 4 months, I always stopped by to say hello. I was usually greeted with a smile and as we got to know each other, I would even get an unsolicited quick hug. Tim Sackett would surely approve of this one-off hug. Sue, along with several other individuals working for us with minor accommodations (reasonable), brought joy along with quality work to our organization. Based on this success in Reno, we expanded our programming to other areas of our company. And on a personal note, it opened my eyes to being more inclusive and open minded relating to making accommodations, along with the value and opportunity of just being open minded towards hiring folks that need a little extra chance.

There are many jobs in every field and at every level that can and should be available to individuals with disabilities. I would even argue that Sue was not disabled, we were – with our biases and fears of what our management might say or how they might act.

Most of us in HR are brave on so many topics and situations. Now is time for HR and Talent to show our strength with individuals with disabilities too. The first step is being honest about our own perspectives and those of our business leaders.

We have a long way to go. Let us take it one hug at a time.