Small Business Owners Must Ignore Disability Misconceptions


A study by Accenture sponsored by the American Association of People with Disabilities and Disability:IN found that between 2015 and 2018, businesses who hired people with disabilities had 28 percent higher revenue and doubled their net income. Other benefits, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, include a 90 percent increase in retention rates, 72 percent more productivity, and a 45 percent increase in workplace safety. These results could have a positive impact on any organization, but smaller companies especially stand to benefit because additional profit could be just what they need to fuel further growth.
Nevertheless, many employers still hesitate to welcome individuals with disabilities into their workforce—according to a Kessler Foundation survey, only 28 percent of organizations have goals to hire individuals with disabilities. A stigma persists, fueled by misconceptions that individuals with disabilities bring added costs to the business, especially with regard to accommodations and lost productivity. A study on Employers’ Perspectives on Hiring and Accommodating Workers with Mental Illness—an “invisible disability” that can’t be physically seen—supports this notion, revealing that employers feel such workers have difficulty concentrating, focusing and processing things quickly.
Employers are overlooking thousands of qualified, capable and hardworking Americans because of misunderstandings like these, and they’re missing out on excellent employees and stronger financial performance as a result.
Here’s another myth: people with disabilities don’t want to work. We found that even 52 percent of initial Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) applicants say they want to get back to work if their condition improves. The number of SSDI beneficiaries who try to get back to work through the Social Security Administration (SSA) Ticket to Work (TTW) program increased 63 percent between 2014 and 2019.
Consider that a small business may have invested a lot in an employee who must leave work due to disability. Small business owners spent $1,886 on training in 2017, according to the Training Industry Report from that same year—and each time a new hire is brought on board, employers have to essentially start from scratch. Rehiring these former employees—into their previous or different position—once their condition stabilizes or improves could be a viable option. 
In addition to the earnings opportunity for the worker, the business gets a dedicated employee who knows the company culture, products and procedures, and has a special level of trust and commitment to the organization.
If they’re ready to try re-entering the working world, an SSDI beneficiary has a range of options for support, from state vocational assistance to government funded training programs. For SSDI beneficiaries, there are SSA-approved Employment Networks (EN) and benefit counselors. ENs help former workers for up to five years, their services are free, and they get former workers into the agency’s TTW program.
Employers with new employees who are in the TTW program can breathe easy. The EN helps with the transition and, most important, ensures the returning worker protects her SSDI benefits by monitoring payroll information and communicating with the SSA for the worker. This means fewer distractions for both parties. And a little-known fact to help a small business manage group healthcare benefit costs: workers in the TTW program keep their Medicare benefits – their primary insurance source – for 93 months.
Further reinforcing the financial advantage of hiring workers with disabilities: employers who hire those with disabilities from certain groups (such as veterans and Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries) may be eligible for tax credits.
These savings could be redirected to invest in reasonable accommodations that an employee with a disability might require. The key word here is “reasonable.” Usually, disability-friendly items like adjustable desks, screen reader software, Braille or color-coded keyboards aren’t overly expensive. An accommodation could be simply coordinating breaks around the administration of insulin or other prescription drugs. A little accommodation can go a long way.
At the end of the day, employers have a lot to gain, even after making purchases to support their employees’ needs. The financial advantages and results speak for themselves. Employers who simply listen will be the first to reap the rewards from an increasingly stable, dedicated and diverse workforce.
Mary Dale Walters is the senior vice president of Strategic Communications at Allsup. She focuses on the company’s efforts to advocate, educate and ensure access to a continuing quality of life for tens of thousands of people with disabilities across the country.

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