Diversity and Disability: Talent Has No Boundaries

By Odette Woods, JD, SPHR
Sr. HR Director
Affirmative Action, Work & Family Life

Odette Woods, JD, SPHR
Sr. HR Director
Affirmative Action, Work & Family Life

As we strive to enhance the overall health of Arkansans, our region and the world, it remains vital for us to continue to seek out and attract talent. Roughly 650 million people in the world, or 10 percent of the world’s population, live with a disability. According to the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), nearly 50 million Americans have a disability.
People with disabilities represent the only minority group that a person may join at any time, regardless of race, color, sex, national origin, ethnicity, religion, class, education, veteran status, income level, sexual orientation, gender, age, or political affiliation. This group is the most diverse minority group, yet disability is often overlooked when efforts are made to ensure an inclusive, diverse, qualified applicant pool or student population.
Although one in five Americans has a disability, two-thirds of working-age Americans with disabilities are not employed and face unemployment at nearly four times the rate of the general population. As of July 2012, the percentage of people with disabilities in the workforce was only 17.7 percent, compared to 64.3 percent for people with no disability, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For many with a disability, unemployment is not a choice, but an unpleasant reality often caused by myths and stereotypes. This article explores five common myths and stereotypes regarding people with disabilities in the workplace and reinforces the fact that talent has no boundaries.
Myth #1: People with disabilities miss more work, cannot do the job, and have a higher turnover rate.
Reality: Studies have shown employees with disabilities have been rated average or better in job performance than employees without disabilities and require no additional supervision. Also, in a 2002 study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Center for Workforce Planning, people with disabilities were found to perform at or above standards in performance, attendance and safety. The same report found that employees with disabilities tend to have a lower turnover rate, as these employees generally remain on the job longer and have a higher level of company loyalty. As noted in a recent Diversity & Inclusion article, “A DuPont study of 2,745 workers with disabilities found that 92 percent of them performed work at an average or higher standard as compared to 90 percent of the general workforce.”

Myth #2: Accommodations are expensive!
Reality: Many employees with disabilities do not need an accommodation to perform their jobs, and the cost for those who do is less than many employers believe. According to the Job Accommodation Network, a service of the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, many accommodations cost nothing, and two-thirds cost less than $500.

Myth #3: Certain jobs are better suited for people with disabilities.
Reality: Everyone is unique, and it is wise to not make assumptions or to pigeon-hole people in certain occupations based on perceived limitations. People should be hired because they have the knowledge, skills and abilities to perform, rather than be prejudged or held back, because of the presumption that the person might fail. Give the best qualified individual the same opportunity and rights of other employees, including similar work expectations and performance standards.  As we value and appreciate people for their individual differences and experiences, our workforce becomes more open and welcoming, and we benefit from diverse perspectives.

Myth #4: The American with Disabilities Act forces employers to hire unqualified people with disabilities.
Reality: Unqualified applicants are not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects applicants who meet all of the job requirements and are able to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation.

Myth #5: Other employees and customers will not feel comfortable around a person with a disability. 
Reality: A report published in the trade publication for the American Society for Training and Development found marketing studies reveal the majority of consumer households patronize businesses that include people with disabilities in their advertising, and a national survey conducted of 803 randomly selected consumers found 92 percent more favorable to businesses who employ people with disabilities and an overwhelming 87 percent preferred doing business with companies who hire people with disabilities. Co-workers may initially express concern or feel awkward in their interactions with someone with a disability, however, these feelings may subside with training, communication, mutual respect, and the use of disability etiquette, as described below.    


  • People with disabilities are like anyone else, except that they have the additional challenge of their disability.
  • Most people with disabilities are not sick, incompetent, dependent, unintelligent or contagious.
  • People with disabilities are not alike. They are individuals with a wide variety of personalities and skills.
  • Do not show pity for someone’s disability. It may make the person feel demoralized.
  • If you are unsure about what to do or say with a person who has a disability, simply ask.
  • Be courteous, but not condescending. Treat people as they want to be treated.
  • Assist people with disabilities when necessary or requested, but do not discourage their active participation. Allow them the dignity to do what they want to do for themselves.
  • Do not automatically give assistance; ask first if the person wants help. Don’t be offended if your help is not needed.
  • If they welcome your help, listen carefully to their instructions. Follow their cues and be the assistant, not the director.
  • If you have trouble understanding someone, do not assume that they do not understand you. It is best to be honest that you are having difficulty.
  • If necessary, ask someone else to ‘translate.’ Speak directly to the person – not the translator, or a companion.
  • Remember that we are all complex human beings, and a disability is just one aspect of an individual.

Source: Community Resources for Independence