COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on every aspect of our lives, from education, to socializing, to our very ability to pay our bills. Grim as the unemployment numbers are for those without a disability, the data show that those with a disability are at an even greater disadvantage.
The Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire recently highlighted statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on employment for people with disabilities as part of their nTIDE July 2020 Jobs Report.
According to the BLS, people with disabilities already lagged far behind those without a disability in terms of employment-to-population ratio. Only 28.4% of the population with a disability was employed in June 2020, compared to 67.7% of non-disabled individuals. Both employment-to-population ratios dipped the following month, as furloughs turned into layoffs and businesses struggled to stay afloat in a severely depressed economy. In July, the employment-to-population ratio for people with disabilities dropped to 28.1%.
Labor force participation rates weren’t much better. At 33% in July for PWD (down from 34.1% in June), people with disabilities still face tremendous underemployment. Economist Andrew Houtenville, PhD, research director of the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability, is understandably concerned. “A decrease in the labor force participation rate for people with disabilities raises a red flag,” he cautioned. “It suggests that workers are losing their jobs permanently after being on furlough, and have stopped looking for work and thus, exited the labor force.”
Hope for the future
Though people with disabilities have historically faced challenges securing employment, a preponderance of small businesses focusing on hiring people with disabilities has materialized. From coffee shops to restaurants, these outfits support disabled workers and help educate the general public on the benefits of an inclusive workforce.
And hiring people with disabilities is not just good karma. As Mark Wafer can attest, hiring PWD was one of the best business decisions he ever made, as he found they were more productive and more loyal than his other workers. Even larger companies like Microsoft and E&Y are embracing a more neurodiverse workforce. Moreover, the Disability Equality Index (DEI) highlighted studies proving that organizations with inclusive cultures are more productive and out-performed their less inclusive-minded peers.
How to ensure your hiring practices are inclusive
One of the biggest barriers people with disabilities face in finding a job is simply filling out an online application. For those employing screen readers or who can only use a keyboard to navigate the internet, job portals are often an exercise in futility, offering up nothing but frustration if they are not coded correctly. Job descriptions are often filled with industry jargon, which could confuse people with cognitive disabilities and dissuade them from applying. Furthermore, as if they were not stressful enough, traditional job interviews can be panic-inducing for people with autism.
Take a look at your organization’s hiring policies. Are your online portals accessible? Are your job descriptions succinct and plainly written? Do you offer accommodations for interviews if the job candidate needs them? If not, perhaps it’s time to make some changes.
Setting employees up for success
Once you’ve hired an individual with a disability, make sure to support them so they can be successful at their job. Screen reading software, suitable desk-space setup, and even accommodations like a stimulus-free room for people to retreat to when they’re overwhelmed can make a huge difference in employee productivity and morale.
As the pandemic grinds on, we can expect to weather tough economic times ahead. But people looking for a job—especially those with disabilities—shouldn’t give up hope just yet. A growing trend of working from home may actually benefit PWD, as they may find it challenging to travel for work and struggle to outfit their office workspace with the support they need to be successful at their job. If you’re looking to improve your workforce inclusivity practices, contact us to learn more about how we can help support your initiatives.
2020 has been an incredibly difficult year for everyone. But as the adage goes, “The dawn is always darkest before the light.”