Hiring People with Disabilities: Promoting Equal Work Opportunity

Most people with disabilities are determined and dedicated to living a productive and dignified life. Employment provides them with opportunities to be self-sufficient and valuable members of society.

However, only 17.9% of people with disabilities were employed in the U.S. in 2020. This figure dipped from the 19.3% employment rate back in 2019. Attributing to this low percentage are the inaccessible workplaces and the stigma that hinder their full participation.

Indeed, employers and their hiring policies play a significant role in opening doors for them to be part of the workforce. With one out of four adults in the U.S. having some form of disability, companies must recognize their responsibility to protect the disabled minority from discrimination through equal employment opportunity.

How can you improve your workplace to cater to the needs of PWDs? What are the steps that you can take to encourage inclusivity? This guide can help you promote equal work opportunities within your company.


Infographic guide to hiring people with disabilities to promote equal work opportunity


What is Equal Work Opportunity?

As its name suggests, equal work or employment opportunity advocates for the fair treatment of everyone when hiring, promoting, or compensating workers regardless of their race, color, ethnicity, age, sex, and physical or mental disability. It allows everyone competing for a position to have the same chances of succeeding as others if they are deemed suitable for a job.

Ultimately, equal employment opportunity eliminates discrimination in decisions and promotes a diverse workforce. Equal work opportunity is especially crucial for people with disabilities because of the vast untapped market. If companies in the U.S. were more receptive to hiring them, they could have access to a talent pool of 10.7 million individuals, each with their own special talents and skills.

Similarly, if 1% more people with disabilities joined the workforce, this could significantly increase the country’s GDP by $25 billion.


Ways to Promote a Healthier Work Environment for People with Disabilities

With an increase in your company’s employee diversity, you can improve profit margins, encourage creativity, widen perspectives, enhance brand reputation, heighten shareholder value, and reduce turnover rates. 

  • Improve workplace infrastructure

Adding ramps, electronic door openers, wide doorways, or tactile indicators to your workplace facilities and ensuring the accessibility of bathrooms, toilets, and parking spots can help your company better accommodate people with disabilities and provide them with a safer and more inclusive work environment. 

  • Refrain from using ableist language

Asking people with disabilities how they want to be identified and using their preferred terminology can prevent offensive labels and unintended insults. Intentionally avoiding words such as crazy, klutz, dumb, slow, challenged, or abnormal can increase awareness against ableist bias.

  • Consistently assess the accessibility of your organization

Knowing where your company stands regarding disability diversity in the workplace can help determine the areas that need improvement.

Similarly, assessing how you support people with disabilities can best be achieved through audits that address the compatibility of your facilities to visual, cognitive, hearing, neurological, speech, or motor impairments. From here, your organization can develop a structured improvement plan.

  • Stop making jokes related to disabilities

Tolerating disability-themed jokes that seem harmless can eventually increase your workplace’s dispiriting and hostile atmosphere and contribute to the rising stigma against people with disabilities. Even if they do not seem offended, remember that they are often under social pressure to go along with self-deprecating humor at the expense of their feelings.

  • Communicate the value of people with disabilities openly

Your top management should be explicit about the importance of embracing disabled workers in your company. You can best accomplish this by clearly communicating disability inclusion in the mission, vision, and values statement. Additionally, factoring their needs in your budget, staffing, policies, onboarding, and recruitment and publicizing these initiatives will help them feel welcomed.

  • Provide training on proper staff etiquette

The most effective way to promote disability inclusivity in your workplace and make every employee feel comfortable is through regular staff training and briefing sessions on equal employment opportunity, proper recruitment, anti-discrimination policies, and etiquette. Extra training for managers and leaders may also increase support and identify the employees’ needs in the workplace.

  • Create a plan

Approximately 23% of social sector employees surveyed state that their organizations intentionally recruit people with disabilities. This percentage highlights the importance of a disability action plan to meet the needs of disabled workers.

Here, include the gaps found from your previous assessments, know how to make changes to your workplace, and present your strategy as a team effort—all departments, including HR, operations, legal, and marketing, must contribute. 

  • Build relationships among employees

People with disabilities can adjust to your company by building relationships with respect among colleagues. Successful companies frequently leverage Employee Resource Groups to connect marginalized workers and increase their sense of belonging. 


Valuable Resources for People with Disabilities

Disability impacts people of all backgrounds, ages, gender, and ethnicity. Organizations that promote equal employment opportunities are relevant In recognizing, understanding, and accommodating people with disabilities.

  • Job Accommodation Network (JAN)

The Job Accommodation Network is a service provided by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). They give free, confidential, and expert solutions to address issues people with disabilities face in their businesses or workplaces. JAN is also the most comprehensive job accommodation resource, working with Fortune 500 entrepreneurs worldwide.

It serves as a workplace guide for disabled employees to show them how to capitalize on their inherent value. JAN provides resources to companies for hiring, recruiting, promoting, and retaining disabled employees. 

  • Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP)

As a non-regulatory federal agency, ODEP encourages employers and government offices to improve inclusivity for people with disabilities through their policies. The organization aims to influence practices that will enhance the quantity and quality of employment opportunities for people with disabilities. 

They do this by driving systems to change according to ODEP’s policy strategies and using evidence-based tools. Furthermore, the office empowers government agencies, NGOs, service providers, and public or private companies to take disability initiatives with ODEP’s technical assistance.

  • Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN)

EARN dispenses various resources and information that enable employers, their HR teams, and diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility staff to promote equal employment opportunities. The organization helps companies recruit, retain, advance, and hire groups with disabilities for a more inclusive company culture.

  • American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD)

To ensure the political empowerment and economic self-sufficiency of the 50 million people with disabilities in the U.S., AAPD works with organizations to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provisions.

  • International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet (ICDRI)

ICDRI is an American non-profit public policy center organized by PWDs. The entity collects resources and best practices for people with disabilities, providing training, education, and outreach.

  • National Council on Disability (NCD)

The NCD is an independent federal agency that consists of 15 members chosen by the U.S. President and approved by the senate. It advises the executive branch on how they can improve equal employment opportunity, promote independent living, and integrate the needs of people with disabilities into all aspects of society through the government’s programs and policies.


Laws that Protect Disabled People from Discrimination

The decades of stigma witnessed by people with disabilities inhibits them from fully participating in society, thus creating barriers to their well-being and success. Laws that protect them from discrimination ensure that they enjoy the same human rights as everyone.

  • Rehabilitation Act

The Rehabilitation Act authorizes and funds various vocational rehabilitation programs and disability-related activities, research, or training of the state.

Apart from financial aid, the act also includes three sections (Sections 501, 503, and 504) that prohibit the exclusion and discrimination of people with disabilities by employers. It also requires organizations to take affirmative action to promote equal employment opportunity.

  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Over four million children with disabilities do not have access to proper public education. IDEA addresses this problem by providing disabled children with free and adequate public education to hone their skills and talents. It supports their well-being through the assistance of psychologists. 

Moreover, to prepare them for future employment, an Individualized Education Plan is created for each student’s goals.

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA protects disabled individuals to ensure equal opportunities in transportation, employment, state and local government services, communications, and public accommodations. It also provides companies that employ them with federal and state tax incentives.

Hiring people with disabilities and improving your workplace environment to accommodate them increases workplace morale, boosts productivity, and promotes diversity. In making your business inclusive, you must consider your company policies, training, and infrastructure. Fortunately, plenty of organizations and laws support companies in their transition to a more inclusive culture.


Disability Rights are Human Rights

Knowing one’s rights, particularly when it comes to equal work opportunities despite being disabled, is crucial in reaching your full potential and preserving human dignity. If you feel discriminated against in the workplace or have issues regarding unequal work opportunities, reach out to Shegerian & Associates for legal assistance from the best disability discrimination attorneys in the industry.

Manuela Varela

Relations Manager

Manuela Varela has been with Shegerian & Associates since August 2022. She is responsible for outreach and marketing on behalf of the firm and manages relationships between firms and referring attorneys. She is also responsible for developing business opportunities and affiliations. Manuela graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in Economics and Political Science.