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Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Return on Disability: A Capitalistic Profit Model I Approve of

In the last 25 years the statistics associated with unemployment and disability have not changed significantly. Between 66 and 70% of people with a disability are unemployed. These are grim numbers. The reasons for the shockingly high unemployment rates have been keenly debated. Businesses are loath to hire people with a disability. Years ago I had a student who was stunned by these numbers and wanted to do a fieldwork project. She proposed to go to the mall and ask the big national clothing stores, Gap, Banana Republic,  American Eagle, Ann Taylor, etc for a job application. She wore the same clothing and told the same background story each time. On one visit she would simply walk in the store and ask for an application. She got an application 99% of the time. She would return one week later wearing the same clothes but using a properly fitting wheelchair. She was not given one application. Every store told her they were not hiring. The point here is the social bias against hiring people with a disability is overwhelming.

The CBC report is not perfect. The focus was on people with cognitive issues rather than physical disabilities. Yet this flaw is not in fact a flaw at all. People with cognitive disabilities certainly encounter the greatest employment based bias. What amazes me is the lack of vision among business leaders. On the rare event I go to a retail store and am exposed to a disabled employee the odds of me providing repeat business are pretty much 100%  The odds of me recommending the store are also 100% It is so rare to see a disabled employee they provide the best sort of free marketing. And believe me the word gets around. The flaw as I see it is that hiring disabled employees is too often tied to a powerful executive with close ties to the disability community. This executive, usually a parent of a child with a disability, can put a hiring program in place for people with a disability. Long ago I recall the Home Depot hired many men and women with Down Syndrome. The sad reality is once this executive moves on all disabled employees end up getting fired.  The bottom line is that employees with a disability are almost universally superior to those who have no disability. Thus if businesses want to increase profit margins they should hire employees with a disability. One barrier needs to overcome--baseless bias.