Seeking competitive advantages is a key part of any business’ survival strategy. Whether you are running an auto parts store, advertising agency, or global tech firm, your venture has a better chance at long-term success if you are able to uncover unique ways to gain an edge over your competitors. Today, some of the savviest corporations and small businesses are doing just that by hiring people with disabilities.
There are a great many misconceptions about how employees with disabilities affect the efficiency and profitability of the companies that hire them. Far too many people still believe long-outdated ideas about the capabilities of individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities. Recent research, however, is breaking down these archaic notions to reveal the huge potential in an inclusive and diverse workforce that includes people with disabilities.
Take for instance the findings of the U.S. Department of Labor, which reported that employers who embrace disability as a core part of their staffing plan typically see:
- 90% increase in the retention of valued employees
- 72% increase in employee productivity
- 45% increase in workplace safety
A 2018 report from Accenture found that companies championing people with disabilities outperform their non-champion competitors with 28% more revenue, twice the net income, and 30% higher economic profit margin.
The fact is that people with disabilities have a lot to offer employers. There are, for instance, more than 52,000 service men and women who have been wounded in action, and many more who have invisible disabilities. Many of these individuals have specialized skills or experience that could be very valuable to a variety of organizations. And many people with intellectual disabilities have characteristics that are very attractive to employers, including a high degree of loyalty, great attention to detail, superior focus, excellent problem-solving skills, and creativity.
In addition to having substantial positive impact on bottom-line numbers and the ability to solve a variety of business challenges, people with disabilities bring many other qualitative benefits to the workplace. Companies whose teams include people with disabilities routinely report an overall improvement in the “vibe” at the office. When a company embraces a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive hiring strategy, people who work there tend to be kinder, more open-minded, and more willing to help one another. There is a greater sense of camaraderie and compassion, both of which carry over into interactions with customers, partners, and even shareholders.
There are many examples of forward-thinking and progressive companies—from global enterprises to local shops—benefitting from a more inclusive hiring strategy. Massive corporations like Bank of America, Microsoft, and CVS Health have implemented a variety of training programs and hiring initiatives to help their companies capitalize on the many practical and inspirational contributions of people with disabilities. And there are many small businesses that are thriving as a result of giving people with disabilities quality work opportunities:
BeanZ Cafe in Connecticut was founded by a group of Connecticut families who were determined to raise awareness about the value of hiring people with disabilities. The equipment in their popular community coffee shop has been adapted to the needs of employees with special needs, and business is booming. And BeanZ provides much more than just caffeinated drinks and snacks. It provides the community with a unique meeting place and an environment that is all about inclusivity and giving back.
Bitty and Beau’s Coffee Shop—with locations in Wilmington, NC; Charleston, SC; and Savannah, GA—is another family-founded company that has grown leaps and bounds beyond its core team, in great part because of the valuable contributions of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), like the founder’s two children, Bitty and Beau. The company currently employs 60 people with IDD and has been featured on The Today Show, Rachael Ray, CNN, Good Morning America, and many other TV shows and magazines.
Autonomy Works is an Illinois-based company that provides high-quality operations support to marketing agencies and firms. Founded by the father of a young man with autism, Autonomy Works is on a mission to change the way the world views people with autism in order to help ensure that the more than half a million individuals with autism who will enter the workforce over the next decade have quality employment opportunities.
Whether they hire people with disabilities for the business benefits, to build a stronger community, or create a more diverse workforce, businesses who tap into this valuable resource will find that putting people with disabilities on the team is a win-win-win that’s better for companies, employees, and customers. If more companies hired people with disabilities, it would even be a win for the country. The Accenture report projects that even if only 1% of the 10.7 million people with disabilities were hired, it could potentially boost the G.D.P. by an estimated $25 billion. Talk about a bottom line contribution.