In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law, prohibiting employers, schools, and public places from discriminating against anyone on the basis of their disabilities, and requiring them to provide reasonable accommodations.
However, even after nearly 30 years with this law in place, many employers still don’t understand their obligations, and often carry misconceptions about hiring workers with disabilities. Let’s take a look at some common myths about hiring employees with disabilities, and whether there’s any truth to them.
Myth #1: It’s expensive to accommodate employees with disabilities
Not true. In fact, most employers (at least 73 percent) will pay nothing at all to accommodate employees with disabilities in the workplace. Of the workplaces that do need additional accommodations put in place, over half of them will incur expenses that total under $500. For more extensive or costly accommodations, the federal government offers tax incentives to help employers make their businesses more accessible.
Depending on the type and severity of the employee’s disability, accommodations can be very simple, such as providing an appropriate chair or color-coding regularly used office items for easier identification. A commonly-requested accommodation is flexibility in hours and work location, which is rapidly becoming a best practice in workplaces for all employees (whether they have a disability or not), and functionally costs nothing to provide.
Myth #2: Employees with disabilities can’t perform their job tasks without a lot of help.
False. In numerous studies on this question, the findings have been clear: managers rate their employees with disabilities to be as productive and valuable to the workplace as the rest of their colleagues. Managers also generally find that their employees with disabilities do not require any more management or support than any other employee.
According to workplaceanswers.com, “The majority of people with disabilities can perform their jobs without any assistance and prefer to be responsible for themselves. Also, they should have the same expectations and work requirements as employees without disabilities so that they can participate in the full range of human experiences—including success and failure.”
Myth #3: If you hire an employee with a disability, the ADA prevents you from firing them.
Also untrue. Employees with disabilities can be fired or laid off just like any other employee, as long as their termination meets one of these three conditions:
If the firing isn’t related to the employee’s disability.
If the employee is not performing their job tasks up to standard, even with necessary accommodations.
If the employee poses a threat to the safety of the workplace as a result of their disability.
Myth #4: Accommodations for an employee with disabilities have to be available to all employees.
Nope. The employee’s disability allows them the right to have accommodations that do not necessarily apply to your entire workforce. For instance, if you have an employee whose disability requires accommodations such as limited on-call availability, the option to keep a snack at the workspace for their blood sugar, or telecommuting on certain days of the week, you are not required to offer those considerations to employees without disabilities.
That being said, there are many benefits to incorporating more flexibility in terms of work location and hours for your entire workforce, where possible. Parents of young children, employees with aging parents, and younger workers (millennials and Gen-Z) regularly list workplace flexibility as among the top benefits a workplace can offer. Providing this option to your whole staff will give you a significant recruiting and retention advantage.
Myth #5: If a person with a disability applies and interviews for a position at my company, I’m required to hire them.
This is also incorrect. When you’re hiring a new employee, and you interview a candidate with a disability, you’re not permitted to take their disability into consideration as a reason to disqualify them for employment. Instead, as with any other employee, you should solely look at their ability to succeed in the position.
What can employers do to create a more accessible and diverse workplace?
Creating a diverse workplace has far-reaching benefits, both for the productivity and innovation of your internal teams and for your reputation as a fair employer. Any misgivings managers and colleagues may have when adding a person with disabilities (or any other kind of difference, for that matter) to the team are generally a result of misunderstanding, not malice. Regular diversity and inclusion training can be useful to any workforce to help clear up any misconceptions about co-workers with different backgrounds and experiences.
Most workplaces could also benefit from a more robust mentorship program. Including employees of all backgrounds, abilities, ages, and skill levels in this kind of initiative can go a long way in terms of creating an inclusive environment, and it’s a wise investment in the professional development of your most valuable asset: your employees.
To learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, be sure to refer to the official website: ADA.gov.
James works at North Fork Lumber in Goshen, Virginia. I started working with James in February of 2017 when he started working at North Fork Lumber.
Penni from the Department of Aging and Rehabilitation (DARS) in Fishersville was already in contact with the office manager, Paula, and the owner, Will, to set up the original interview to see if stacking lumber was the right fit for James. After a functional interview, Will offered James a full-time position as Lumber Stacker.
The number one focus for the entire lumber yard operation is safety. The employer wanted to know that James could focus on his job and be safe while doing it. James is a fast learner and could identify the length and types of wood way before I could! James has a lot of energy and the ability to move quickly. He is also motivated to earn his own paycheck and does not mind overtime at all!
James’ job duties include stacking lumber that comes from the “green chain” by length and type, bundling the lumber when it gets to a certain height, filling out the production slip for the bundle of lumber, and cleaning up especially during downtime.
Since the beginning, James has improved his job performance in many aspects but especially his speed, strength, and stamina. James went from not having a work history to working full time and often overtime. He is always early to work (before 7 a.m.) and usually works a 10 or 12-hour shift.
James is now receiving Follow Along services with The Choice Group to ensure both he and his employer are satisfied and to provide any assistance if ever needed. I check in with James and his employer two times a month by phone and in person to make sure work is going well.
James has his driver’s license and own vehicle so he can spend time with his friends socializing and going to the movies when he isn’t at work. Rebecca Myers Vocational Counselor
Jason and I have worked together for a little over 4 years now. He was assigned to me under situational assessments and did so well at an Office Assistant assessment he was hired on the spot at Home Sweet Home Care in Smithfield. He has been working there for about 4 years. The owner, Shirley McGee, and staff at Home Sweet Home Care are incredibly supportive of Jason and always look out for him. The owner and staff say they love Jason and that he is a joy to have in their office.
Jason uses a wheelchair and has left side paralysis so he was initially referred for situational assessments to see what his employment strengths and likes were. After learning about Jason’s preferences, we did one prior assessment trying silverware rolling, but due to his hand strength and left side paralysis, it was not a good fit. Next, we tried the Office Assistant assessment at Home Sweet Home Care. He did terrifically and the owner was impressed with Jason and with supported employment and offered him a job on the spot.
Jason assembles informational packets, places stickers on pill packets, stamps and addresses envelopes, and does other tasks as needed. He is personable and friendly and always ready to help the office staff out. Jason says this job has helped him learn how to socialize. He also says the job has given him a purpose and that he feels needed and makes a positive contribution helping others. Jason also says he is a much happier person since he has been employed.
Jason is now receiving Follow Along services and I check in with him and his employer once monthly by phone or in person to make sure he continues to do well. I have never received anything but positive feedback on Jason from the owner and his coworkers.
Jason spends time with his family in his free time and enjoys watching comedy TV shows and movies.