Skills Gap? 9 Tips for Recruiting People with Disabilities

July 14, 2015 3:55 pm

By Barbara Frankel

Photo by Shutterstock

Photo by Shutterstock

The labor-force participation rate in the United States is at its lowest point in almost 30 years and a global shortage of 95 million workers within the next five years is predicted.

Yet a huge segment of the population is dramatically underemployed – people with disabilities.

Consider these facts: About 20 percent of the U.S. population has a disability. Only 17 percent of working-age people with ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act)-defined disabilities are employed vs. 64.6% of people without disabilities. And people with disabilities who start college graduate at a higher rate than the general population.

Why, when there is such a growing need for workers, is this population so underutilized?

“It’s an attitudinal issue,” said John Kemp, President and CEO of The Viscardi Center and the Henry Viscardi School (for children with disabilities).

“Civil rights will protect people from discrimination,” he explained, “but there still is a negative perception of people with disabilities performing job-related tasks.”

Carol Glazer, President of the National Organization on Disability (NOD), added that the system for sourcing candidates with disabilities for corporate jobs is inadequate. “We need to bring together employers with students who have disabilities. There are still issues with students not wanting to disclose disabilities and employers who still have misconceptions and fears,” she noted.

Here are 9 Tips From Experts On How to Tap This Labor Force:

1. Hire as many interns with disabilities as you can. John notes this is a valuable way for employers to get comfortable with people with disabilities and for the employees to understand the workplace and culture needs

2. Lori Golden, Abilities Strategy Leader at EY, DiversityInc’s No. 1 Company for People With Disabilities urged companies to use social media to signal to the marketplace “that we are a company seeking talented people of all abilities and backgrounds. Our web page ( has several resources to help support people with differing abilities through their job search and highlights success stories within our own firm.” EY also just launched a new campaign on LinkedIn. (From October 2014 to June 2015, EY increased its hiring of people with disabilities in the United States by 53%.)

3. Be very visible – EY is present at many events that are good recruitment vehicles for people with disabilities, such as the Learning Disabilities Association of America and the Hearing Loss Association of America annual conferences, as well as career-information events for experienced job seekers with disabilities. Golden said the company has nearly doubled the number of people attending key disability conferences.

4. Use your employee-resource group. 80% of the DiversityInc Top 50 companies have groups for people with disabilities and many are used to help with recruitment, educational purposes, and internal and external events

5. Have dedicated recruiters for people with disabilities and offer them frequent training and exposure to people with different abilities

6. Have senior leadership express the importance of hiring people with disabilities. At EY, members of the Steering Committee have taken on leadership roles with several disability non-profits and Steve Howe, Americas Managing Partner, led a webcast that helped drive membership of the AccessAbilities employee-resource group to more than 1,000 members

7. Work with established organizations that are connecting employers with candidates. For example, the Viscardi Center has developed the Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN,) a resource for employers to “recruit, hire, retain and advance qualified employees with disabilities.” The initiative is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Policy and has been in existence since October. John notes there has been significant interest from hundreds of companies, both large corporations and small businesses. And NOD’s Bridges to Business works with employers to review their human-resource policies including, recruitment, hiring, on-boarding, internal training, talent development and performance tracking.

8. Make sure your hiring initiatives and accommodations on people with disabilities are as good as possible. NOD, Sirota Research and the Viscardi Center in 2013 created the Disability Employment Tracker, which assesses corporate hiring and employee practices for people with disabilities. This year, filling out the tracker was a requirement for companies to earn a spot on DiversityInc’s Top 10 Companies for People With Disabilities list

9. Think about your requirements and what can be changed. Also think about using people with special needs for special situations. For example, Glazer cited a high-tech European firm that has pledged to have 1% of its workforce be people with autism. “They note that people with autism have great memories and minds for detail and can sit and work with chips for an 8-hour day and do it well and do it with accuracy,” she said.