Diversity Insight: People With Disabilities Can Be Great Employees

confident female employee using a wheelchair
By Paula Morgan

3 minutes

In this tight talent market, credit unions can look to this group to broaden their hiring pools and spectrum of thinking.

October is National Employment Disability Awareness Month.

Credit unions have a lot to gain from hiring some of the 61 million Americans who have a disability. Only 18.7 million were employed in 2017, so the population of people with disabilities is largely untapped in terms of potential workers. In fact, a report by CareerCast Disability Network ranked “accountant” and “financial planner” as the top two best jobs for people with disabilities.

$1.8 billion South Carolina Federal Credit Union, N. Charleston, has the right idea. The organization made a video in April 2018 proudly showing that its diverse employees have conditions including multiple sclerosis, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, dyslexia and other learning disorders. Both business owners and the talent they seek stand to benefit from individuals with disabilities being hired. To sell a service or product to a specific audience, executives have to know how they think. What better way to do that than by creating a workplace that welcomes and supports people with disabilities, giving employers access to a variety of voices when making decisions? 

According to the Kessler Foundation’s 2017 National Employment & Disability Survey: Supervisor Perspectives, less than a third of companies have goals to hire workers with disabilities. This status quo statistic can and should change. Here’s why. 

By increasing diversity among their employees, credit unions can likewise increase their clientele. This is because authenticity is more than just a buzzword—it’s a driving factor behind consumers’ decisions to purchase goods or services. According to a 2017 Corporate Social Responsibility Study, 65% of Americans will research whether a company is truly invested in a social or environmental issue they claim to care about. And for credit unions, it would be a poor reflection to have few individuals with disabilities within the ranks while saying that diversity and inclusion is valued.

A reason more employers don’t hire workers with disabilities is misguided fear. As confirmed by a recent study, among the biggest employment barriers individuals must overcome are employer misconceptions about their capabilities. Some of the things employers fail to realize: 

  1. Not all disabilities manifest in a physical sense. There are individuals who have “invisible disabilities” such as pain, fatigue, learning disorders, etc., which can be recognized and accommodated.
  2. Workers with disabilities do not miss more work, nor do they have greater medical expenses, than other employees.
  3. Making accommodations doesn’t have to be expensive. Employers are required to make “reasonable” accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Though they may be worried about cost, many employers can be surprised by the affordability of some accommodations. For example, workers in wheelchairs may need desks at a certain height for wheelchair accessibility, and small appliances like vertical mice or Braille keyboards can go a long way. 

Credit unions who don’t hire employees with disabilities are missing out on dedicated, loyal and passionate contributors to their organization. Fortunately, we find that 52% of Social Security Disability Insurance initial applicants wish to return to work once their condition stabilizes or improves. 

A way for employers to access this pool of willing talent is through the Social Security Administration’s Ticket to Work program. TTW is available to all SSDI benefits recipients for free, and it provides valuable incentives, making the transition back to work easier and less scary. The program also functions as a safety net, with a combination of protections. The only requirement is that beneficiaries continue to make efforts toward their employment goals, made easier with help from Employment Networks. ENs help SSDI beneficiaries stay on track by giving them the tools and information they need to succeed. 

There is much to gain from employing people with different backgrounds, perspectives and abilities. The most forward-thinking, successful credit unions can begin with their first hires to benefit their organizations and the millions of Americans workers who have a disability. In doing so, credit unions can identify a new source of willing and qualified employees, plus better understand an audience of potential new customers. When it comes to a disability-friendly and accessible workplace, everyone wins. 

Paula Morgan has more than 18 years of public and private experience helping people successfully navigate Social Security Administration disability programs. She is a return-to-work case manager for Allsup Employment Services, a national, SSA-authorized employment network. Morgan works with former workers with disabilities to help them navigate the Social Security Administration’s Ticket to Work program. She focuses on education and early intervention of Social Security disability insurance applicants as they move through the insurance program and identifies opportunities for returning to work should their condition improve.

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