July 26, 2020 was the 30th anniversary of the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibited the discrimination of individuals with disabilities in many situations, including employment. While the passing of the ADA was a great step forward, worthy of celebration, workplace discrimination of people with disabilities continues to occur at troublesome rates. In the article, “EEOC Emphasizes the Importance of Disability Employment Awareness,” David Grinberg interviews Christopher Kuczynski about this ongoing problem. Kuczynski has previously served as an Assistant Legal Counsel for the EEOC and Associate Director for the White House Domestic Policy Council and is currently the Deputy General Counsel for the U.S. Access Board. He provides excellent insight on including individuals with disabilities in employment and the benefits of doing so, while explaining why discrimination still exists.
Kuczynski argues that hiring individuals with disabilities brings many of the benefits associated with hiring a diverse group of employees. He specifically states that increasing disability employment can help expand consumer base, provide new insight in decision making, and increase the return on investment. He also explains that untrue stereotypes get in the way of hiring qualified employees that happen to have a disability. One misconception is that employees with disabilities will be unable to be as productive as others. People may equate a physical disability with an intellectual disability or may fail to understand that the presence of a disability does not always hinder every aspect of an individual’s life. Individuals with disabilities are very diverse and have the same array of strengths and talents as any other group. A second misconception is that individuals with disabilities, especially mental health conditions, automatically pose a greater safety risk to the workplace. Kuczynski states that this stereotype is simply incorrect and that “The safety risks associated with mental disabilities are no greater than those associated with the population generally.” Finally, he explains that many employers get hung up on the idea of “reasonable accommodation,” which will be discussed below.
A reasonable accommodation is a physical or policy change that allows for the employment of an individual who would otherwise be unable to work for the organization. It is important to note that accommodations that would seriously undermine the wellbeing of an organization are not considered “reasonable.” It is also important to note that organizations are required by law to provide reasonable accommodations in order to prevent discrimination. Although the concept of reasonable accommodation often applies to employees with disabilities, this also covers accommodations needed for other minorities, such as dress code acceptations based on religious adherence. Allowing an individual to wear a religious head covering, providing an accessible computer to a low vision employee, and allowing an employee with mobility difficulties to telecommute are all examples of reasonable accommodation. The article cites a study by Cornell University that found the average cost of accommodating an employee with a disability to be only five hundred dollars, and that doing so creates a higher return on investment due to an increase in productivity. That said, Kuczynski explains that many employers still fear the cost of accommodations and possible disruptions to business operations.
Finally, Kuczynski states that while many employers implement policies that comply with the ADA, these policies may not be properly communicated to lower supervisors, leading to discriminatory decision making. He explains that those at the top must demonstrate a commitment to inclusive hiring practices and must hold lower managers and supervisors accountable for adhering to inclusive policies. Everyone must understand that this is a matter to take seriously. Every individual with a disability is unique, with a personal set of strengths and challenges. It is prejudiced to assume that an individual with a disability will provide less to an organization than anyone else. Not only is hiring discrimination based on disability status illegal, it keeps highly qualified individuals and their insights from ever benefitting the organization. Take time to consider the inclusivity of your organization’s hiring practices and the benefits of granting reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities today.