Every October, we observe National Disability Employment Awareness Month to celebrate the contributions for works with disabilities and raise awareness about disability employee issues. This year, we’re featuring Kristin Schaub from Greenleaf Job Training Services. Greenleaf is a non-profit organization that helps job seekers to find and keep meaningful employment by providing vocational training and support and connecting them with inclusive employers.
Q. Tell us about your role at Greenleaf.
A. I am the CEO of Greenleaf Job Training Services. We provide personalized support to match individuals facing disability and other obstacles to meaningful employment. We believe that everyone has value in the workplace, no matter where they’ve been, where they want to go, or what challenges they face.
Q. What are some common misconceptions about hiring individuals with disabilities, and how can we dispel them?
A. There are several common misconceptions about hiring individuals with disabilities, and it’s important to dispel these myths to promote inclusivity and diversity in the workplace. Here are some of these misconceptions and how to counter them:
Individuals with disabilities are less qualified or less capable: This is a harmful stereotype. Many individuals with disabilities are highly skilled and qualified for various roles. Their disability does not reflect their competence. Focus on an applicant’s qualifications, skills, and experience rather than making assumptions based on their disability. Interview and assess all candidates fairly and objectively.
Accommodations are costly and burdensome: Some employers worry that providing accommodations for employees with disabilities will be expensive and complicated. In fact, many accommodations are simple, low-cost, and can benefit all employees. The majority of accommodations cost less than $500. Additionally, there are often tax incentives and grants available to help cover the costs of accommodations.
Disabled employees are more likely to have frequent absences: It’s a common misconception that individuals with disabilities are less reliable and will take more sick days. However, studies have shown that employees with disabilities have attendance records similar to or better than their non-disabled peers.
Hiring individuals with disabilities lowers workplace productivity: Some believe that employees with disabilities might slow down productivity or negatively affect team dynamics. In reality, diversity in the workplace can enhance creativity, problem-solving, and innovation. Employees with disabilities often bring unique perspectives and talents to the team, which can contribute positively to overall productivity. Additionally, employers may worry that hiring individuals with disabilities will require ongoing support and supervision, yet most employees with disabilities are independent and capable of performing their job tasks without constant assistance. If accommodations are needed, they are typically minimal and can be discussed and implemented with input from the employee.
There’s a lack of qualified candidates with disabilities: Employers sometimes assume that there aren’t enough qualified job candidates with disabilities. However, there are many highly qualified individuals with disabilities seeking employment. Engage with disability organizations, vocational rehabilitation providers like Greenleaf, and job boards specializing in connecting employers with disabled candidates. You’ll likely find a pool of talented candidates eager to work.
Disability is always visible: Some people believe that disabilities are always apparent, such as using a wheelchair or having a visible physical impairment. Many disabilities are actually invisible, including mental health conditions, learning disabilities, and chronic illnesses. It’s important to create an inclusive environment that accommodates all types of disabilities, both visible and invisible.
To dispel these misconceptions, it’s essential for employers to educate themselves, foster an inclusive workplace culture, provide training on disability awareness and accommodations, and actively seek out and consider candidates with disabilities in their hiring processes. Additionally, organizations can benefit from creating employee resource groups focused on disability inclusion to promote understanding and support within the workplace.
Q. What resources and support are available for employers who want to hire and accommodate employees with disabilities?
A. Employers can access a variety of resources and support to help them create an inclusive and accessible workplace. In Ohio, a great place to start is the state agency, Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (https://ood.ohio.gov/). They partner with organizations like Greenleaf to facilitate employment opportunities in our community for people with disabilities and can assist employers with disability employment services, including job matching and accommodation solutions.
Additionally, there are numerous national nonprofit and advocacy organizations such as the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), that provides free, expert guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues, and Disability: IN, whose mission is to help businesses promote disability inclusion in the workplace. Professional organizations related to specific disabilities or industries also often have resources for employers looking to accommodate employees with disabilities.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives present an excellent opportunity to provide necessary resources and support to employees with disabilities. It is important for these initiatives to acknowledge disability as a form of diversity and include comprehensive training and resources on disability-related topics. At Greenleaf, we can contribute as a valuable resource by offering education and training on various employment aspects relating to disabilities, including disability awareness and etiquette, accommodations, and tax incentives.
Finally, consider establishing or supporting ERGs focused on disability inclusion. These groups can provide valuable insights and support for both employees and employers.
To successfully hire and accommodate employees with disabilities, it’s important for employers to proactively seek out these resources, educate themselves, and foster an inclusive workplace culture that values diversity and inclusion at all levels of the organization.
Q. Tell us about innovative workplace accommodations or assistive technologies that have improved employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
A. Workplace accommodations and assistive technologies not only make it easier for people with disabilities to perform their job tasks effectively but also help create more inclusive and accessible work environments. Some examples include:
- Speech recognition software like Dragon Naturally Speaking that allows individuals with mobility or dexterity impairments to control computers and dictate text.
- Text-to-speech software and screen readers that can convert written text into spoken language, making it accessible for individuals with reading disabilities or visual impairments.
- Adaptive keyboards and mouse devices that can accommodate different physical needs.
- Remote sign language interpretation services via video conferencing that make it easier for deaf or hard-of-hearing employees to communicate in meetings, interviews, and training sessions.
- Wearable technologies, such as smart glasses or hearing aids with Bluetooth connectivity, that can assist individuals with disabilities by providing real-time information and enhancing communication.
- Accessible software and applications that prioritize accessibility features in their products, including screen reader compatibility, keyboard shortcuts, and customizable interfaces.
- Cloud-based collaboration tools with real-time collaboration and accessible features that ensure individuals with disabilities can work effectively with their colleagues regardless of their location.
- Adjustable desks, ergonomic chairs, and customizable workstation setups that help accommodate individuals with physical disabilities or chronic pain conditions.
These innovations demonstrate the ongoing commitment of technology developers, employers, and disability advocates to create a more inclusive and accessible work environment for individuals with disabilities. When combined with effective workplace policies and a culture of diversity and inclusion, these technologies and accommodations empower individuals with disabilities to thrive in their careers and contribute their unique skills and perspectives to the workforce.
Q. Which industries or sectors have been successful in promoting disability employment, and what can others learn from their experience?
A. Several industries and sectors have been successful in promoting disability employment, demonstrating best practices and strategies that others can learn from. These success stories highlight the benefits of diversity and inclusion while providing valuable insights into creating inclusive workplaces. These include the tech, retail, healthcare, finance, entertainment/media, and hospitality industries. In addition, the government and public sector have often led by example when it comes to disability employment. Successful organizations prioritize disability inclusion at the highest levels of leadership. They also promote accessibility and inclusive policies while providing ongoing training and awareness initiatives within the organization.
Promoting disability employment is not just a matter of social responsibility; it’s also good for business. Diverse and inclusive workplaces benefit from a broader range of skills, perspectives, and problem-solving approaches, leading to increased innovation and competitiveness. By learning from these successful industries and sectors, other organizations can take steps to promote disability inclusion and create more welcoming and equitable work environments.
Q. How can organizations interested in employing individuals with disabilities connect with you?
A. Organizations and individuals interested in working with us can connect in a number of ways:
Vice President of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Access