The Disability Funders Network says that people with disabilities constitute the largest minority group in the U.S. – approximately 20 percent of the total population. This group also has an unemployment rate 10 times greater than the national rate. We all know it's wrong to discriminate, but it seems outrageous that so many employers aren't utilizing this qualified group of people who are ready and able to work. 

Thankfully, there are readily available resources out there to help us diversify our workforce. Since the inception of our company, we have recognized the benefits of including people with disabilities on our team, and worked to make our company an inviting workplace for people with disabilities.  Here are some nuggets we’ve learned along the way:
1. Open your mind to a new definition of ability. The word disability is usually associated with people who are deaf, blind, or use wheelchairs. But it also applies to such hidden physical conditions as epilepsy and diabetes, or such mental conditions as depression and bipolar disorder. Recognizing that the thought of becoming familiar with – let alone adhering to – the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)  might be overwhelming for businesses, the government offers several primers that outline who is protected by the Act, employer requirements, do’s and don’ts, and resources to help employers make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. Although a common assumption is that the ADA only applies to larger companies, it actually applies to all public and private businesses with 15 or more employees.

2. Tap the available resources. The ADA is not designed to force employers to hire a less qualified person with a disability over a more qualified person without one, remove essential job functions, lower performance/conduct standards, or cause undue hardship. It’s an effort to help employers make reasonable adjustments that allow people with disabilities a fair chance to compete for and hold jobs for which they are qualified. That said, (knowingly) employing people with disabilities is unchartered territory for many of us, so I encourage businesses to get familiar with such resources as organizations dedicated to linking employers to jobseekers with disabilities, online information, and federal tax incentives that encourage employers to hire people with disabilities and to promote accessibility to public accommodations.

3. Understand the bottomline. According to the Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN), there is also a strong business case  for hiring people with disabilities. The National Association of Social Workers points out that people with disabilities bring a high level of loyalty, dedication and commitment to the job, and “aside from having equal or higher performance ratings compared to workers without disabilities, workers with disabilities have the lowest attrition rates of any employee group in this country.”

Unfortunately, a common misconception is that reasonable accommodations are expensive. According to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), which offers free, confidential service, more than half of accommodations cost less than $500, and many are free. JAN’s statistics also show that most employers report financial benefits based on increased worker productivity and reduced costs in terms of insurance and training new employees. While other businesses are busy being close-minded, you can tap a source of high-quality employees who are often overlooked. Regardless of the focus, when a company makes minimal investment and reaps significant benefit, that simply makes good business sense.

Weekly Wine Tip: Check out the 2010 Toccata Pinot Grigio - with subtle aromas of lemon peel, jasmine tea and pea, its delicate yet bright finish inspires wine novices and aficionados alike to unwind and get comfortable with new ways of thinking.