Yesterday, we talked about the fact that PWDs could use some real friendships for Christmas. We also examined what kind of interactions make up a real friendship. One such interaction was mentorship like the kind you see in the workplace. Yet, recent statistics show only 19% of people with disabilities regularly participate in the workforce. According to articles in business magazines such as Forbes, this is often because employers think PWDs are not cost-effective. To be blunt, they think PWDs are a drain on their money. Ebeneezer Scrooge much?
Seriously, people. I realize that businesses have to make money and in some cases, a temporarily able-bodied person is more qualified than a person with a disability. For example, I love medical shows and learning about medicine, but I am not a doctor and would not expect to be hired as one just because I have cerebral palsy if a TAB person were more qualified than I am (which bookoos of them are). But when businesses shut down the idea of hiring PWDs without any forethought or questions, everyone gets cheated. In addition, people like the spokespersons of organizations like Opportunity Works and EARN get stuck trying to explain the purpose of their companies. PWDs and their advocates end up essentially begging for space in the workforce. Come on, guys. The ADA has been in effect for twenty-five years. Get with the program.
Today, we’re going to look at some of the benefits of hiring PWDs, but with a couple of caveats:
1. We will not discuss tax breaks. Most business owners know about these, and they are useful, especially in this economy. But if the only reason you hire a PWD is for extra money, you need some additional perspective.
2. We will discuss the benefits of hiring persons with disabilities in all fields. The face of disability in the workforce has changed. Yes, some of us are perfectly content working in food service, laundry, or menial jobs, but a plethora of other options exist now. One of my goals is to show PWDs and their loved ones that attaining adult status does not automatically mean a permanent job at Chick-Fil-A or Burger King.
So, on we go to those benefits.
When you hire a PWD, you are hiring a problem-solver. Most of us, yours truly included, have spent our entire lives modifying the things TAB people take for granted. I’ll give a couple examples from my own life. I can’t tie shoes, so I have to wear, and search out, slip-on models. When I had to take geometry for college prep in high school, pictorially-based study methods did not work for me. I had to type out the facts and formulas in the book and study using words. Other PWDs come up with modifications like these all the time, and if we can’t, usually we just need a little help to get us going. When life presents you with a problem almost from birth, your critical thinking skills get an automatic boost.
So think about it. Maybe your business has always had content problems on its website. Your IT people are stumped–but then you hire a PWD who has a degree in public relations. Maybe he or she doesn’t know everything about computers, but maybe he or she looks at the problem and says, “Oh, I get it. Your website is too flashy, and you have big blocks of texts broken up by links that don’t work half the time.” That example is a bit simplified, but ones like it happen every day.
When you hire a PWD, you are hiring someone creative. Now of course, some people take that in a negative light. You know, like special ed teachers and vocational rehab coaches who say, “Oh yes, Cooper is very creative at getting his own way/getting out of work.” That may be true for a select few, just like it is for a few TAB people. But let’s look at creativity in a positive way. PWDs hear a lot about what they can’t do and will never do. As hurtful as this is, it can also help them hone their strengths more. So instead of having a team member who’s “good” at coming up with diplomatic solutions, maybe you end up with a great one. A person with dyslexia who’s also great at math might be the best accountant you’ve had in years.
When you hire a PWD, you are hiring a determined soul. I don’t mean this in the hokey, “Look, Julie finally walked two steps” sense. I mean it in the sense of, sometimes the best way to get results is to tell someone they can’t do something. I can tell you from personal experience, I will put all I have into proving you wrong. For example, maybe you thought your employee with a disability can’t keep up well enough to cut people’s hair in a salon. Maybe he or she does need to start off slow, with just a few appointments a week. But given time, patience, and true mentorship, who knows what could happen?
As for that thing about, “Yeah, they’re determined not to do things or to get their own way”–yeah, I’ll admit I’ve been there before. But think about it. If what someone else is asking you to do is harmful or feels unsafe, shouldn’t you be determined not to do it? If you’ve never been allowed to express your opinion, what’s the harm in insisting things go your way for once?
When you hire a PWD, you are hiring innovation. Yes, most of us need modifications. Yet contrary to popular belief, most of those modifications don’t cost a ton of money. For example, what if you had a great candidate who had sensory issues related to clothing? Would making a few dress code exceptions be such a big deal? And no, I don’t mean letting that person show up in spaghetti straps and Daisy Dukes, but really. Or let’s say you had a teaching candidate with a disability that required her to sit down a lot. What is the big deal about that? You might learn that candidate is a good employee, and he or she might inspire you to think beyond the usual.
When you hire a PWD, you are hiring humor. No, we’re not all joyous every minute of every day, but most of us have learned to see the humorous side of life. Yours truly can be quite snarky when she needs to (yeah, I know, major shock). And as long as it’s appropriate, every workplace needs humor, right? (Note: please don’t police us for social appropriateness every second).
Those are a few of the big benefits, but certainly, more exist. This holiday, consider giving a person with a disability a two-word gift: You’re hired!