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  • Anni Shamim

If Hiring People With Disabilities is So Great for Business, Why Isn't Everyone Doing it?

Now Hiring

Yeah, you're thinking. Why? 28% higher revenues, 200% higher net income, 30% higher profit margins. Then, why?

Well, the same reason so many of us don't exercise regularly, don't eat enough vegetables, don't meditate or do yoga or learn to play an instrument, when science gives us irrefutable evidence that these practices enhance our health, longevity, and quality of life. We're entrenched in habit, we groan at change, and most of us wouldn't be caught dead chanting chakras in a yoga class with a bunch of weirdly unembarrassed people. But oh, how unfortunate, this illogical fear and shunning of what we see as the other.

Unfortunate too that people with disabilities are so discriminated against, so out of the norm in our country that most people with hidden or invisible disabilities (yes, there are those; over 50%, in fact) never self-identify on their job applications. Rather than risk being passed over, they make do without those "reasonable accommodations" that would have been, by law, afforded them if they'd felt safe enough to state their disability - depression or diabetes or migraines, for example. Their concerns are real, because the unemployment rate among people with disabilities is more than double that of those with no disability. And job-seekers who are brave enough to show up with a guide dog or in a wheelchair for an interview? Unless the interviewers have been prepared in advance, they'll twist in their interviewing chairs, suddenly talking too loudly and shuffling papers on their desk while avoiding eye contact. There in plain sight again, that aversion to difference. That seemingly inescapable feeling that there must have been some mistake, because this here disabled person couldn't possibly do the job.

Well, first of all, Mister, (or Ma'am), you are probably looking at a very able person who happens to have a disability and not a roundly disabled person, which rings of disabled battery or disabled engine, and these, if not permanently dead, are clearly in a coma. But as you can see, your candidate over here is wide awake, eager, alert. If he's shown up on time, has a reasonable job history and good references, he's probably up to the task. In fact, national data show that he will stay at the job 14% longer than your employees without disabilities, will have a positive effect on your company culture, enhance your reputation, and improve profit margins. Look it up, I'm not kidding.

Really? the interviewer says, perking up. Yup, I say in my imagination, taking a deep breath, summoning my patience, drawing from the depths where lie my empathy and generosity of spirit. The interviewer is not irredeemably closed-minded, just sheltered and hence parochial; disability inclusion has not been a part of his life. Diversity and difference haven't played a meaningful role in his upbringing. And I'm not about to put my hard-earned money on the yoga class he's never been within a mile of. I would know, because years ago I made fun of my more worldly best friend, calling her serious-minded practice - how mature of me - boga, and her downward-facing-dog upward-facing-a**.

I didn't grow up in this country, and lobster and shellfish are still slightly gross to me. I tried soft-shell crab for the first time last year and almost gagged on it. Embarrassed myself in front of my New Englander friends, the gourmands. But I did grow up eating vegetables, and chomping on raw radishes is one of my favorite ways to kill an untimely hunger pang. And that plus the resultant malodorous belches (silenced to gentle hisses, mind you) is what my Irish-American husband finds strange and a little unsettling. Because he grew up around a mama who sucked on ciggies, not radishes, to soothe her multiple daily cravings. But I digress.

The point is...actually, two points. One: Just because a great thing isn't adopted quickly and broadly doesn't disprove the greatness of said thing. And two: Not everyone is set up for or even wants that particular great thing, whether it's disability inclusion or a fantastic diet and exercise program. Another good friend of mine doesn't like to exercise, but is one of the most voracious consumers of knowledge I know, and uses much of his free time reading. It comes down to preference and priority.

Which reminds me of an article I recently read, titled You probably want to ask yourself "What do I want?" Here's a way better question:

A more interesting question, a question that perhaps you’ve never considered before, is what pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for? Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.

Not that there is any great pain or high degree of struggle involved in hiring and retaining people with disabilities. But the practice does require a shift in our focus and thinking, a break from our set ways to step out of our box of comfort and go venturing (adventuring!) to find and enjoy and reap the benefits of, as the story goes, new cheese.

Acquiring a taste for soft-shell crab never was that important to me. But yoga I looked at with fresh eyes and decided to go after. Hard as it was to get into at first, I eventually grew to love hot vinyasa yoga, and now practice regularly. It changed my mind, my body, my life.

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