There are many reasons to employ people with intellectual disabilities. Most obviously, it’s the right thing to do – it helps promote social justice, diversity, corporate social responsibility and equal opportunity.
Even so, data published in 2020 (the latest available) shows that only 53.4% of people with disabilities are in the labor force, compared to 84.1% of people without disabilities.
The situation is worse for people living with an intellectual disability; only 32% of this group are employed.
Australian Bureau of Statistics
People with intellectual disabilities are ready, willing and able to work.
What employers often don’t realize is that hiring this often overlooked segment of the workforce can also bring business benefits.
Resilience, perseverance and positive attitude
The recent Australian television documentary series, Employable Me, highlighted the employment challenges faced by people with disabilities.
It’s hard not to admire the incredible resilience, perseverance and positive attitude of this group.
Despite these qualities, people living with an intellectual disability who want to work face obstacles such as:
- employer attitudes
- preconceived beliefs
- discriminatory work practices and
- limited knowledge of their abilities.
It is true that employers may need to make adjustments to the workplace to meet the needs of these employees, such as:
- communicate in pictures rather than words (for example, use signs with symbols to indicate who and what goes where)
- break tasks down into simple steps
- specialized training for workers with intellectual disabilities, as well as for supervisors and co-workers.
Yes, these changes may represent an initial cost. But research shows the profound benefits of hiring people with intellectual disabilities, which can include:
Organizations highlighted in these studies include retail organizations, military, small and medium-sized businesses, professional services, and landscaping.
However, achieving such results requires employee support, changes in work procedures, flexibility in supervision and, perhaps most importantly, an open mind.
“A huge waste of human resources”
People with intellectual disabilities can and do make a significant contribution at work when given the opportunity.
Many tend to be employed part-time and in segregated environments – often in Australian companies for the disabled or in what used to be called ‘sheltered workshops’.
One of us (Elaine Nash) has researched the business benefits of employing people with intellectual disabilities. The research (which has not yet been published) involved interviews with policy makers, leaders, disability rights advocates, managers, employers and staff.
An interview was held with Professor Richard Bruggemann, Disability Advocate and Senior Australian of the Year in South Australia last year. He described the low labor market participation rate of people living with intellectual disabilities as “a huge waste of human resources”. He said:
People living with intellectual disabilities are ready, willing and able to make a difference for organizations beyond the traditional framework of sheltered workshops. All they need is an opportunity to do so.
Bruggemann’s observations are supported by international research on workers living with intellectual disabilities. Many studies have called for a whole-of-government approach to boost employment rates in this cohort.
Hiring people with intellectual disabilities will not always be appropriate.
It’s not a magic bullet for business success, greater efficiency, or greater profits. But in some contexts, it can help address issues that concern employers.
As Simon Rowberry, CEO of Barkuma (a non-profit organization that supports people with disabilities) told us in an interview:
There are costs and benefits to any employment decision. Integrating workers with intellectual disabilities into your workforce is no different. Preparation, understanding the pros and cons, and the need to be flexible are non-negotiable.
Perhaps the most critical success factor is a genuine desire to make it happen. Where there is a will, there is usually a way.
Elaine Nash, PhD Candidate, University of South Australia and Basil Tucker, Lecturer in Management Accounting, University of South Australia
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.