News Column

Businesses Urged to Hire Disabled Workers

Oct. 6, 2012

Mitch Mitchell, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

If business leaders would change their attitudes and hire the disabled, the result would be happier workplaces and fatter corporate bank accounts.

That's the message that advocates for the disabled sent business representatives Friday as officials with the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services trumpeted the benefits of hiring the disabled.

As of Sept. 12, the unemployment rate for the country's disabled population was 13.5 percent, down nearly three points from the same period last year but almost double the rate for the nondisabled population, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to the Center for Workforce Properties, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, placing 10 severely disabled persons in jobs costs the federal government $120,000, but saves taxpayers $470,000 a year in reduced social services.

"We all win when a person with a disability works because they become a taxpayer and buy things in the community," said Jim Hanophy, DARS rehabilitation assistant commissioner.

One in five people in the United States have some form of disability, and others will develop a disability as they age, said Dennis Borel, executive director for the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities. Employers who want to retain trained employees will adjust their workspaces to accommodate those valued employees, said Susan Hunter, who works with DARS division for blind services.

"The older you get, the more you need some type of assistance," Hunter said.

Workers are put at ease when they see an employer making accommodations for other workers because it lets them know they're likely to get help if they ever need it, said Linda Batiste, Job Accommodation Network principal consultant.

Also, consumers are more likely to give their business to a company that hires people with disabilities, according to a national survey by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Still, even with all the benefits, employers have been slow to add more disabled workers to their ranks, advocates say. What is needed is for more employers to come to the realization that hiring disabled people makes good business sense, said Jeff Foster, general manager for the Lowe's Distribution Center in Mount Vernon, about 130 miles east for Fort Worth.

Foster said the distribution center has partnered with DARS during the past two years to increase the number of disabled people that work there.

"The ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] is important," Foster said. "Laws like that help level that playing field. But you can't legislate that attitudinal change. Hopefully, one of these days I won't have to have a program. We're a long way from that, but I hope we can get everyone to change their minds."

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Source: (c) 2012 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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