The U.S. Navy concludes their marketing pitch above with “an adventure.” While their focus is on recruiting for military service, the message in their ad should resonate with everyone in the special needs community. Employment for those with special needs is much more than a source of economic benefit.
Individuals with disabilities want the same thing as everyone else — to live happy, fulfilling and productive lives. Meaningful work is a key factor in achieving that goal. In the 2011 United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) Case for Inclusion study, it was reported that approximately half of Americans with disabilities want to work. Jennifer Mizrahi, President of the non-profit RespectAbilty USA states, “America will be stronger when we welcome all those amongst us to participate in the economy and achieve the American dream.”
Of the 56.7 million adult Americans who have disabilities, approximately 1 in 3 is employed according to the National Organization on Disability and the U.S. Census Bureau. As of 2010, individuals with disabilities made up only 6% of the U.S. civilian work force while representing 19% of the total population. The median earnings for an individual with a disability are only 2/3rds of the median wage for those who do not have a disability in the same job category.
As glaring as the wage discrepancy is, the non-monetary benefits of employment for individuals with special needs usually outweigh the financial ones. Employed individuals achieve an increased amount of freedom and rely less on family and friends for decision-making assistance. They are happier, their self-esteem increases, they take pride in their work, and they feel valued. Their elevated levels of happiness and self-esteem positively impact their mental and physical health.
Having a job provides benefits not only to the individual, but also to their families, friends, and community.
Local communities benefit from having individuals with special needs employed for economic reasons and because it creates a more diverse environment. The 2011 UCP study compared individuals with disabilities who do not work with those who do. Those who work report a 48% higher rate of going shopping, a 39% higher rate of going out for entertainment, a 41% higher rate of eating out at restaurants, and a 42% higher rate of exercising.
Nationally, more than 30% of the entire adult population is receiving income-based government assistance. According to the National Governors Association, the U.S. spends about $300 billion annually to support unemployed workers with disabilities. These numbers illustrate the financial incentive for federal and state governments to encourage employment of people with special needs. Increasing the employment level of individuals with special needs not only raises tax revenues, but also reduces entitlement spending. In addition, current tax incentives make it easier for businesses to cover accessibility and support costs.
From a business perspective, employment diversity is strategically well-reasoned. For example, Walgreens has used the hiring of individuals with special needs to their strategic advantage. Recognizing that their turnover rate was 48% lower among employees with disabilities but there was no difference in productivity, Walgreens has been actively recruiting people with disabilities. Studies of their distribution centers indicate that disabled workers are more efficient and loyal than their non-disabled peers. Absenteeism has gone down, turnover is lower, and safety statistics are up since Walgreens increased their number of employees with disabilities.
Other companies are following Walgreens’ lead. German computer software firm, SAP, is actively recruiting people with Autism to work on programming and product testing. They have found that people on the Autism spectrum are often more detail-oriented and thorough than other people. Similarly, Freddie Mac has advertised a second round of paid internships specifically for Autistic students. Both organizations hope to harness the talents of individuals with Autism while giving them opportunities to thrive.
Hiring more people with disabilities, as well as promoting and retaining employees with disabilities, expands a company’s talent pool and may create new business opportunities. In August of 2013, the Federal Government issued the Final Rule related to the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. The Final Rule requires government contractors to have individuals with disabilities account for at least 7% of the workers within each job group at their companies. While the Final Rule will likely come under attack by different groups, Carol Glazer, president of the National Organization on Disability, hailed the pronouncement stating, “The work of recruiting this largely untapped talent pool on a larger scale can truly begin.”
As Oak Wealth Advisors grows, one of our goals is to find opportunities to employ individuals with special needs in mutually beneficial capacities. We hope that all businesses will do the same.