I bustled down the hallway, running a few minutes behind for my one o’clock appointment with a candidate who had been patiently waiting for her interview. “Olivia’s” resume listed extensive communication skills, as she was fully bilingual, majoring in Spanish, and had even studied abroad in South America for the previous four months. There in the lobby sat a twenty-something young woman with a friendly and bright expression on her face. As I moved closer and called her name, a smile turned up on her lips and she immediately held out her hand for a firm shake. Her face radiated light, but her overcast eyes did not match her beaming expression. Olivia was legally blind.
During the interview, she told me stories of students in South America to whom she taught English. She said that almost always they would request another tutor, as they claimed to be ‘visual learners’ and did not believe Olivia was capable of properly teaching them the English language. But who better to teach language than someone who is only capable of communicating via speech? She elaborated more on her struggles, and it dawned on me that she would not be capable of performing the duties of the outside sales position for which she was applying for. My heart sank for her. While we could provide accommodations to help her excel at another position within the company, sight is a vital skill for an outside sales position in order to regularly commute from place to place.

After analyzing the difficulties she would face if she attempted the position, it made me wonder, are candidates with disabilities really offered an equal opportunity? Are companies really giving them a chance, as well as making the proper arrangements for them to flourish within the company? Or are they taking the easy route, and disregarding these applicants altogether?

It comes with no surprise that candidates with disabilities are disproportionately unemployed compared to traditional candidates. Nearly 70 percent of disabled Americans are unemployed, which is often not by choice. Many of them wish for the fulfillment of work, but cannot find it. In recent years, Walgreen’s opened a distribution center with thirty percent of their staff consisting of disabled workers. The results were astounding, as the center operated even more efficiently than other similar centers in the nation. Here is the secret:

1.       Disabled Workers Bring a Unique Skillset to the Table

Studies from Walgreen’s indicated that disabled employees were generally more loyal and dedicated workers, often paid closer attention to detail, and tended to play-it-safe when it came to work hazards. They were also rated more friendly and easy-going than their non-disabled counterparts.

2.       Diversity is Good for Business

A diverse staff within a company has many advantages. Those with disabilities, such as Olivia, may have life experiences that customers might find meaningful and relatable. The more unique a life experience inevitably means the more similarity with every walk of life. A diverse staff attracts a diverse customer base. Employers who hire individuals with disabilities demonstrate an awareness of dignity and humanity, while providing them a functioning role within the community.

3.       See the Glass Half Full

Many workers with disabilities at the Walgreen’s Distribution Center were especially enthusiastic about their employment. Overall, these workers were genuinely happy to be working. An organization can run smoother and more effectively with employees who are thankful to be there, who feel appreciated, and who spread their contagious enthusiasm.

Luckily, disabled workers in West Michigan have some great organizations in their corner. Organizations such as Goodwill of West Michigan, Disability Network/Michigan, and Disability Connection of West Michigan, have great resources and information on reshaping Michigan’s workforce, helping companies source disabled candidates, and assisting disabled workers with assessing their abilities. These workers want to be hired, and they will bring a unique element of humanity to the company.