Firms miss op­por­tu­ni­ties for dis­abled

San Francisco Chronicle - - BUSINESS - By Holly Ramer Holly Ramer is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

Most em­ploy­ers have ef­fec­tive pro­grams for ac­com­mo­dat­ing work­ers with dis­abil­i­ties, but they of­ten over­look re­cruit­ing and train­ing prac­tices that could ex­pand em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, ac­cord­ing to a na­tional sur­vey re­leased this week.

Two-thirds of re­spon­dents to the poll of su­per­vis­ing em­ploy­ees said their or­ga­ni­za­tions have poli­cies and pro­ce­dures to pro­vide re­quested ac­com­mo­da­tions to work­ers with dis­abil­i­ties, and nearly all of them rated those pro­cesses as ef­fec­tive. But when it came to spe­cific prac­tices, sev­eral that were rated as highly ef­fec­tive were far and few between. For ex­am­ple, only 13 per­cent of su­per­vi­sors said their or­ga­ni­za­tions of­fer job shar­ing, yet more than 90 per­cent of those who al­low it said such poli­cies were ef­fec­tive for both peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties and work­ers over­all. And only 27 per­cent have teamed up with a dis­abil­ity or­ga­ni­za­tion to re­cruit work­ers, even though most su­per­vi­sors said the idea is fea­si­ble.

“Many times em­ploy­ers don’t know where to go to find qual­i­fied can­di­dates,” said John O’Neill, di­rec­tor of Dis­abil­ity and Em­ploy­ment Re­search at the Kessler Foun­da­tion and the study’s co-in­ves­ti­ga­tor. “That’s a prac­tice that’s re­ally un­der­uti­lized, but when it is uti­lized, it’s con­sid­ered to be very ef­fec­tive.”

The Univer­sity of New Hampshire In­sti­tute on Dis­abil­ity con­ducted the sur­vey for the Kessler Foun­da­tion, a New Jer­sey non­profit that funds re­search and projects aimed at im­prov­ing the lives of peo­ple with neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties. It ques­tioned 3,085 su­per­vi­sors in or­ga­ni­za­tions with 25 or more em­ploy­ees about hir­ing, train­ing and re­ten­tion prac­tices, and whether or not those prac­tices were ef­fec­tive both for em­ploy­ees in gen­eral and those with dis­abil­i­ties.

Peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties make up 3.2 per­cent of U.S. work­ers ages 16 to 64, ac­cord­ing to pre­vi­ous Univer­sity of New Hampshire re­search and fed­eral la­bor sta­tis­tics. Those 4.6 mil­lion work­ers amount to about 30 per­cent of the to­tal workingage pop­u­la­tion of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, mean­ing the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties aren’t em­ployed.

One prob­lem is in­con­sis­tent sup­port for help­ing em­ploy­ees with dis­abil­i­ties learn their jobs, O’Neill said. The sur­vey found that while su­per­vi­sors felt that they and up­per man­age­ment were equally com­mit­ted to hir­ing peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, su­per­vi­sors view up­per man­age­ment as less com­mit­ted to train­ing and ac­com­mo­da­tions.

“Su­per­vi­sors are right at the ground level, and man­age­ment is of­ten­times at a dis­tance,” said Kessler Foun­da­tion Pres­i­dent Rodger DeRose said. “So su­per­vi­sors have to push the com­mu­ni­ca­tions up­ward and say, ‘This is what we re­ally need.’ ”

While two-thirds of those sur­veyed said it is very im­por­tant to pro­vide re­quested ac­com­mo­da­tions to work­ers with dis­abil­i­ties, only 28 per­cent of or­ga­ni­za­tions have dis­abil­ity hir­ing goals, com­pared with nearly 60 per­cent that have goals for other types of di­ver­sity.

DeRose said dis­abil­ity re­mains “the silent mi­nor­ity.”

“This whole area of em­ploy­ing peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties (was) a real strug­gle be­fore the sign­ing of the Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act in 1990, and here we are 27 years later, and it’s still a chal­lenge,” he said.

“Many times em­ploy­ers don’t know where to go to find qual­i­fied can­di­dates. That’s a prac­tice that’s re­ally un­der­uti­lized, but when it is uti­lized, it’s con­sid­ered to be very ef­fec­tive.” John O’Neill, the study’s co-in­ves­ti­ga­tor

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