3 Myths About Hiring Students With Disabilities

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If your company is committed to hiring—and retaining—a diverse workforce, it’s important to consider students and recent graduates with disabilities during your recruiting, hiring, and on-boarding processes. But lack of knowledge can make this practice seem more difficult than it actually is.

Guest writer Alan Muir, Founding Executive Director of Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities (COSD), shares some of the most common misconceptions about hiring students with disabilities, and how they can be addressed in your organization.

Myth #1: Because they have a disability, they are unqualified.

Untrue. Having a disability can be an advantage in the fact that living with a disability forces a person to problem-solve more than average people to accomplish the same things.

In my case, I am a person of very short stature and each day I need to make many decisions about how I will be able to, among many things, reach certain items, open certain heavy doors, and interact with people I have not met. Each of these situations presents a challenge that through experience and knowledge of your own abilities can be overcome through self-accommodation.

This is a skill that most students with disabilities do not even realize they have. We ask them to tell us how they handle specific everyday situations and they will just automatically tell us, since it is an everyday occurrence. When asked to break down the process, they begin to see the decisions that are involved in completing that task. Problem-solving, thinking outside the box—or whatever you may want to call the skill—is something people with disabilities have in abundance.

The trick is to have the opportunity to show those skills or to articulate them. We teach students to take advantage of those opportunities and ensure that each encounter with an employer is an opportunity to show what they can do.

Myth #2: Because they have a disability, they will be frequently absent or increase my employee medical costs.

Untrue. The fact is that employees with disabilities are among the most loyal.

This is not because they are grateful for the opportunity, but they know, through their own experience, there is a risk the employer is taking with them by hiring them.

Therefore, if the situation continues to be positive, that employee with a disability will pay off in greater productivity, lower absenteeism, and higher levels of retention.

A person with a disability is already well-attuned to their physical needs and knows how to manage whatever challenges that may arise in an orderly fashion. They know to plan ahead for medical appointments and to schedule necessary time off.

An interesting fact is that accidents on the job involving people with disabilities occur at a much reduced rate due to a person with a disability knowing their own limitations and not taking an uncertain risk of injuring themselves.

Additionally, these employees, either through accommodations provided by the employer or their own self-accommodation, have the tools to avoid possibly injurious situations.

Myth #3: Workplace accommodations are expensive or can result in significant job change modifications.

Untrue. US Department of Labor and other studies prove that 90% of all workplace accommodations cost less than $500 and many of them are one-time costs.

Many more are no-cost options of changes in hours or other similar actions.

There are some extreme examples of employers spending an unusual amount of money on a specific accommodation. But if that employer had worked with the employee—who has the experience of knowing what works for them—a lower cost solution could generally have been found.

We teach students to be fully aware of what accommodations work for them and why. We ask them also to be fully aware of the cost and full descriptions of either software or physical equipment and relay that information to the prospective employer.

This takes the guesswork out of the situation for employers and also indicates to the employer that the candidate has knowledge and self-assurance.

A prime resource to assist higher education, employers, and students is the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), an outstanding website and service with live experts to walk through how to determine if an accommodation is appropriate for the workplace and assist in suggesting alternatives that may be more appropriate and less costly. You can find JAN at https://askjan.org/.

The next step: Check out the resources that are available to you on JAN. COSD also offers a range of products and services to help connect employers and students and recent grads with disabilities. Learn more on the COSD website.

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