Workers with disabilities boost U.S. firms

Visually impaired man walking using cane (© Gerry Broome/AP Images)
Christopher Alexander makes his way through the Skilcraft pen assembly area at the Industries of the Blind in Greensboro, North Carolina, in April 2018. (© Gerry Broome/AP Images)

U.S. companies that employ people with disabilities find it is good business.

By making sure their workplaces are accessible to people with disabilities, employers ensure a wide pool of applicant talent and even expand their customer bases, according to EARN, the Employer Assistance and Research Network on Disability Inclusion.

A study from global consulting firm Accenture finds companies that excel in disability employment are more productive and have higher profits. These companies are four times more likely to have shareholder returns that outperform those of their peers.

A motivated workforce

People with disabilities tend to be innovative and creative. They develop problem-solving skills and a willingness to experiment from having had to adapt to the world around them, according to Helena Berger, a disability rights advocate for 30 years and recently retired president of the American Association of People with Disabilities.

Man peeling potatoes in restaurant kitchen (© Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service/Getty Images)
In this January 2018 photo, a worker peels potatoes at a Baltimore cafe that is committed to hiring young adults on the autism spectrum. (© Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service/Getty Images)

People living with a disability represent 15% of the global population — 1 billion people — according to the United Nations. The United States is a global leader in protecting the rights of people with disabilities with its landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law in 1990. That law bans discrimination against people with disabilities in all places open to the public, including the workplace.

A recent survey by Adobe finds that while U.S. companies are supporting disability needs, there is still room for improvement, especially in recruitment and retention of workers.

In 2021, 19.1% of people with a disability were employed, a small increase from the previous year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (PDF, 270KB). But that share is only about a third of the employment rate of those without disabilities. National Disability Employment Awareness Month (October) is helping to focus hiring officials on the need to integrate more people with disabilities into the workforce.

Victor Calise and Robert De Niro laughing (© Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
Actor Robert De Niro (left) with advocate Victor Calise at the 2022 ReelAbilities Film Festival in New York. (© Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

“More and more companies are making that very important commitment,” says Victor Calise, a longtime disability advocate. “Organizations are stepping up to the plate.”

Calise notes there is increasing representation of people with disabilities in television commercials and movies. In general, he says, “I feel positive the tide is changing.”

Freelance writer Holly Rosenkrantz wrote this article.