As experts predict an economic downturn to come this year, I have a challenge for employers who are looking for talent: hire people with disabilities.
The unemployment rate for people with disabilities and a bachelor’s degree or higher is more than double that of people without disabilities and a bachelor’s degree or higher. The same holds true for people at all levels of educational attainment. That means there’s great talent out there, eager for their next opportunity. It’s also a call to all of us: it doesn’t have to be this way, and all of us are responsible for undoing this kind of exclusion.
Follow the Data to DEI
Recent studies have demonstrated the business, economic, and social impact of hiring people with disabilities. In one study from Accenture, produced together with Disability:IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities, findings made clear that companies that champion disability inclusion significantly outperformed others on measures of revenue, net income, and economic profit margin. A long-term study from the Job Accommodation Network reported that most employers who hired people with disabilities incurred no cost for making necessary job accommodations, and the rest typically only paid $500 for accommodations.
Lastly, a review of 39 peer-reviewed articles that was published in the Journal for Occupational Rehabilitation showed that hiring people with disabilities led to improvements in profitability, competitive advantage, inclusive work culture, and ability awareness. For people with disabilities, the impact is real: they reported improved quality of life and income, enhanced self-confidence, expanded social network, and a sense of community.
Be Part of the Solution
While the message is clear—hiring people with disabilities is in everyone’s best interest—how do we affect meaningful change?
Exclusion is a problem at the community level, and therefore inclusion requires community solutions. As a career coach at Villanova University, I see how I can be part of making a difference. Instead of only advising students with disabilities on how to best navigate barriers to employment, we must bring together students, employers, and disability advocates to examine and address those barriers together.
At Villanova’s Disability Inclusion in the Workplace Conference 2022, the university gathered students, community leaders, and hundreds of employers including Ernst & Young, SAP, and UiPath to discuss strategies for building disability inclusion into internship and entry-level hiring experiences.
There, we featured students, recent graduates, and disability inclusion advocates who shared their experiences and best practices for embracing people with disabilities at work, ranging from methods to signal inclusion in job postings to considerations for how employers can consider accessibility when designing remote and asynchronous work experiences.
Employers left the event with information on how to ensure interview processes are set up for all to thrive and with inspiration to take back lessons learned to their organizations. Our post-event survey revealed that 96% of employer-attendees intend to share information learned at the conference with people in their organizations, and 82% of them will suggest to change or change parts of their hiring processes.
Another 82% will suggest to change or change the way their organizations create inclusive environments. Our planning team continues to hear from attendees who are eager to partner with us on efforts to increase hiring and inclusion for people with disabilities.
Community-based initiatives matter for our students and people with all abilities. I challenge others to find ways they can be part of the solution. Our communities and our companies deserve nothing less.
Kevin Grubb is Associate Vice Provost, Career and Professional Development at Villanova University.