LitBits #3: Common employer concerns about people with disabilities

Are misconceptions about disabilities holding you back from hiring people with disabilities? We’ve summarised a fantastic review of common employer concerns and what can be done to address them.

A lone woman in a suit sits in a row of five chairs.

Concern #1: There aren’t enough qualified people with disabilities.

There may be more potential candidates with disabilities than you think.

Many disabilities are physical or psychological conditions that have no visible features, such as arthritis or depression. They may also be episodic – the symptoms may be minor some days/weeks/months, and worse at other times.

Some people may choose to conceal their disabilities, fearing that it could negatively affect how they are perceived or treated in the workplace.

It’s also possible that your recruitment practices could be deterring people with disabilities from applying.

What employers can do

  • Train managers and co-workers. Improve their knowledge of disabilities and how to interact with people with disabilities at work.
  • Provide support for disclosure discussions. Prepare managers and HR personnel to have safe and constructive conversations around disclosure.
Close up of a jobs website menu.

Concern #2: I don’t know how to attract qualified candidates with disabilities.

What employers can do

  • Check that electronic job boards and company websites have up-to-date accessibility features.
  • Signal that your organisation is diversity-friendly. Specifically list disabilities alongside other forms of diversity in your recruitment materials and formal policies on diversity.
  • Train staff on hiring and retaining workers with disabilities. You could also have a formal disability hiring policy, but it needs to be established, supported and enforced by top management.
  • Partner with agencies or organisations that specialise in supporting the employment needs of people with disabilities.
Close up of two people shaking hands across a desk with a resume on it.

Concern #3: Applicants with disabilities complicate the selection process.

In many cases, the selection process doesn’t need to be different for applicants with or without disabilities.

Sometimes, accommodations will be required to ensure that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate (e.g. asking questions in a different format in lieu of a written test for candidates who have difficulty using a handwriting tool). Providing these accommodations could have great benefits for employers too – applicants may be more likely to accept job offers, view the organisation positively and recommend the organisation to others.

What employers can do

  • Focus on abilities, not disabilities. Know what abilities are needed to do the job. In the interview, ask “How would you perform this required task?” – just as you would for every applicant, not only the ones who you suspect might have a disability.
  • Be consistent. Structured interviews can help prevent biased decisions against candidates with a history of disabilities.
Person using a calculator to add various bills and receipts.

Concern #4: It’s expensive to provide accommodations for workers with disabilities.

Accommodations often cost very little, for example flexible work arrangements like remote working or flexible hours.

These accommodations can also be requested by workers with caring responsibilities, travel limitations or other commitments; they cost the same whether they are provided to an employee with or without disabilities.

Providing accommodations might actually save money by reducing employee turnover.

What employers can do

  • Provide accommodations early. Ignoring accommodation needs can lead to higher costs over time.
  • Check if there are financial supports available to offset accommodation costs.
  • Be prepared for trial-and-error to find the right accommodation. It can take time and multiple attempts, but it’s important to make sure it works for the person.
  • Treat accommodations as part of your organisation’s culture of inclusion, not a legal compliance issue.
Two women and man working together on a shared laptop.

Concern #5: Employees with disabilities won’t fit in socially with their co-workers, who might perceive accommodations as unfair.

Studies show that employees with disabilities have a positive effect on co-workers’ attitudes. They exhibit stronger feelings of commitment to the organisation and may increase the team’s sense of trust when they choose to share information about their “invisible” disabilities.

What employers can do

  • Train managers and employees to work with people with disabilities.
  • Make accommodations available to all employees, regardless of disability status. Frame accommodations as a way of supporting employees to excel, not compensate for a lack of ability.
  • Create employee resource groups for workers with disabilities. These groups facilitate disclosure and can help provide advice and training to the rest of the organisation. Smaller organisations who have few employees with disabilities can set up an industry-specific group that encompasses several employers.
A woman wearing a lab coat, safety glasses and gloves carefully pours powder from a test tube into a bottle.

Concern #6: Employees with disabilities present occupational health and safety challenges.

Evidence suggests that workers with disabilities have equal (if not better) safety awareness and records than those without disabilities. What’s more, their safety awareness has a positive influence on their co-workers’ safety behaviours.

What employers can do

  • Ensure that emergency preparedness considers the needs of all employees. This may require creating individualised emergency response plans for workers with disabilities, for example how workers with visual impairments or who use a mobility device can safely evacuate in the event of a fire.

See the full review for all 11 concerns or a list of references:

Bonaccio S, Connelly C, Gellatly I, Jetha A and Martin Ginis K (2020) ‘The participation of people with disabilities in the workplace across the employment cycle: employer concerns and research evidence’, Journal of Business and Psychology, 35:135–158.