• Anni Shamim

Should Small Businesses Hire People with Disabilities? Fears, Myths & Advantages


According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) “Despite being the nation’s major drivers of job growth, small businesses employ people with disabilities at a much lower rate than large businesses – often because they don’t have the practical knowledge to ensure their workplace is inclusive and accessible.”

One in four – 61 million – Americans have a visible or nonvisible disability that impacts their day-to-day activities in significant ways (www.cdc.gov). Of these, 15.1 million are of working age and ability, many of whom are unemployed or underemployed (www.weforum.org). The continuing tight job market is an incentive for employers to look toward the available pool of job-seekers with disabilities; however, there are other good reasons – some specifically benefitting small businesses – to proactively hire qualified talent who happen to have disabilities.

Fears & Myths around Hiring People with Disabilities

Before they could reap the worthwhile benefits of disability inclusion, businesses large and small have had to overcome misconceptions and biases about the abilities of people with disabilities. Most companies still harbor them, and judging from the statistics, small businesses even more so than their larger counterparts. What are these widely shared fears and myths?

The most common are fear of the unknown, concerns about the cost of “reasonable accommodation” (which by law employers are required to provide – appropriate changes and adjustments to enable a person with a disability to be considered for a job opening. See DOL’s Small Employers and Reasonable Accommodation), and doubts about the quality of work and productivity of people with disabilities. Many employers also believe that employees with disabilities have more absences and are more likely to engage in litigation.

Study after study has disproven these negative assumptions about employees with disabilities.

Benefits & Advantages of Hiring People with Disabilities

For small businesses, a good place to start as they venture out of the unknowns of disability hiring is DOL’s Small Business & Disability Employment: Steps to Success, an easy-to-follow online guide that provides practical steps for small businesses on how to recruit and retain qualified people with disabilities. DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) developed this resource to facilitate disability hiring for small businesses.

Steps to Success includes more information on reasonable accommodations. Many if not most accommodations can be achieved relatively easily and at little or no cost to the employer. Furthermore, any investment in reasonable accommodations provides consistent employer benefits over time with minimal costs. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a study by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) “found that providing accommodations to individuals in the workplace resulted in such benefits as retaining valuable employees, improving productivity and morale, reducing workers' compensation and training costs, and improving company diversity. The majority of employers in the study (59 percent) reported that the accommodations they provided had zero cost, and, when costs were involved, the accommodations typically cost only $500.” (Accommodating Employees' Disabilities).

A relatively small price when considering the remarkable business returns, as recently recognized on the global business stage of the World Economic Forum (WEF). Earlier this year, WEF in Davos, Switzerland held its first ever panel discussion on disability hiring, titled The Business Case for Disability Inclusion. A related article cites a recent research report, which shows that disability-inclusive companies, on average:

  • are twice as likely to have higher total shareholder returns than their peers

  • are four times more likely to have total shareholder returns that outperform those of their peer group

  • achieved 28% higher revenue

  • achieved double the net income

  • reached 30% higher economic profit margins

The overall positive results of disability inclusion in the workforce are well-documented, including 14-30% higher retention rates, more aware and thoughtful internal culture, enhanced company image, and an expansion of, or at least a stronger connection with, a consumer-base of people with disabilities.

Tax Benefits of Hiring People with Disabilities

Small businesses can claim three types of tax credits: Disabled Access Credit, Architectural Barrier Removal Tax Deduction and Work Opportunity Tax Credit.

The Disabled Access Credit provides a non-refundable credit to small businesses for the purpose of providing access to persons with disabilities. A small business must have earned $1 million or less or had 30 or fewer full-time employees in the previous year. Credit can be taken each and every year they incur access-related expenditures.

The Architectural Barrier Removal Tax Deduction is an incentive for businesses of any size to remove architectural and transportation barriers to the mobility of people with disabilities and the elderly. Businesses may claim a deduction of up to $15,000 a year for qualified expenses.

The Work Opportunity Tax credit is open to all businesses and provides employers incentives to hire qualified individuals from certain target groups, including people with disabilities. The tax credit amount ranges from $1,200 to $9,600, depending on the employee hired and the length of employment.

For more details and information on how to apply, visit the IRS page Tax Benefits for Businesses Who Have Employees with Disabilities.

This is all welcome news for small businesses who want to do better while doing good.

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