Industry reports consistently rate workers with disabilities as average or above average when it comes to employee performance, attendance, retention and safety. So why are so many people with disabilities unemployed?

The No. 1 barrier preventing many companies from hiring people with disabilities continues to be “attitudes at all corporate levels,” according to a report published in the February edition of T + D magazine, the trade publication for the American Society for Training & Development.  The report is also available via podcast.

Although employers who hire people with disabilities often experience less turnover, less absenteeism and higher productivity, front-line staff and hiring managers continue to have reservations about hiring workers with disabilities due to preconceived myths, according to the report’s authors, Jenell L.S. Wittmer, an assistant professor of management at the University of Toledo, and Leslie Wilson, president and CEO of Wilson Resources.

“Employees with disabilities can widen your company’s profit margin by reducing turnover, boosting customer loyalty, cutting worker’s compensation costs, and gaining financial incentives from the federal government,” the report says.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2007 American Community Survey, 41.2 million people-representing 15 percent of the “civilian non-institutionalized population”-have some kind of disability, and this number will continue to grow as more soldiers with disabilities return from Iraq and Afghanistan.

As of January 2010, the percentage of people with disabilities in the labor force was only 21.8 compared with 70.1 for people with no disability, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The unemployment rate for those with disabilities currently stands at 15.2 percent, significantly higher than the 10.4 percent for people with no disability, not seasonally adjusted.

According to the report, “the majority of unemployed citizens with disabilities would prefer to work, and the vast majority do not require any type of mobility assistance.”

Training is key to helping hiring managers and front-line staff dispel these myths about employing people with disabilities, the report says.

MYTH: “Accommodations are too expensive.”

FACT: Most accommodations (81 percent) cost less than $100, and 73 percent of employers found that their employees who had disabilities did not require special accommodations. Additionally, these accommodations, made for employees with disabilities, have been found to benefit organizations’ aging work forces, the report states.

MYTH: “I’ll be sued.”

FACT: Very few businesses experience disability-related claims, the report says. A review of EEOC data shows that people with disabilities filed fewer claims than people of color or any gender or age groups.

MYTH: “They cannot perform the job.”

FACT: People with disabilities were average or above average in performance, attendance and safety, the report says. “A DuPont study that involved 2,745 employees with disabilities found that 92 percent of employees with disabilities rated average or better in job performance compared to 90 percent of employees without disabilities.”

MYTH: “They all quit.”

FACT: Hiring a worker with a disability is both a retention and employment strategy, the report says.

MYTH: “Hiring people with disabilities will scare my customers away.”

FACT: “Marketing studies have shown that 54 percent of households patronize businesses that feature people with disabilities in their ads,” says the report. “A national survey of 803 consumers randomly selected from across the United States found that 92 percent felt more favorable toward companies that hire people with disabilities, and 87 percent said they would prefer to give their business to such companies.”

The report also noted that companies that hire people with disabilities can gain financial incentives from the federal government, including:

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC)

The federal WOTC can reduce a company’s federal income-tax liability by as much as $2,400 per qualified worker.   “As an employer, you may take a tax credit up to 40 percent of the qualified worker’s first $6,000 in wages paid during the first 12 months for each new hire,” the report says.  “For veterans with disabilities who meet specific criteria, the WOTC can be up to $4,800.”

The U.S. Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Ticket to Work Program

This program offers employers an opportunity to generate $4,800 in the first nine months of employment when they hire a Social Security beneficiary who has a disability.  According to the report, there are more than 10 million Americans with disabilities who are Social Security disability beneficiaries.

By Sam Ali,, March 1, 2010