Hiring Individuals with Disabilities Can Be a Smart Move

By Robert J. Blaney, SBA Arizona District Director

Small businesses are finding it difficult to hire talented workers.  Hiring a disabled individual can help a business meet their talent needs while also strengthening their competitive edge.  Hiring an individual with a disability, allows a business to expand its pool of talent, create a culture of diversity, meet their workforce needs, foster creative business solutions, and create goodwill among their customers.

A disability is considered a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Most of us human beings have one.

Individuals with disabilities often need a workplace accommodation, perhaps a modification or an adjustment to their work environment.

Small businesses benefit when they value and appreciate each person for their individual differences and experiences.  By investing in recruiting, hiring, and retaining talent, including people with disabilities, businesses can give themselves a competitive edge and demonstrate their commitment to inclusion and opportunity.

Creating an inclusive culture isn’t hard, and the best starting point is the U.S. Department of Labor’s website regarding “Employer Assistance and Resource Network.”

The first step is writing a good job description which should be used to outline tasks, duties, and other expectations and identifying potential accommodations that can enable an employee to perform the job successfully.

The goal of the recruitment process is to attract and identify individuals who have the best skills and attributes for the job available.  Ensuring that all qualified individuals, including those with a disability, can take part in the process, is essential to achieving this goal.

It is important to know where to look to find candidates beyond the traditional recruiting processes and businesses interested in hiring employees with a disability should begin by contacting their local Workforce Development Board (WDB).  In Maricopa County, that includes the Phoenix Business and Workforce Development Board, the Maricopa County Workforce Development Board, or the Workforce Arizona Council.

The Arizona WDBs are part of the Public Workforce System, a network of federal, state, and local offices that connect companies to the resources, including skilled employees with disabilities.

When interviewing candidates with disabilities, employers must follow certain guidelines.  There are questions you may not ask job applicants regarding their disability or medical condition.

To learn how to conduct an interview, read the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guide, “Questions and Answers: Enforcement Guidance on Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Examinations of Employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

What really matters is an employee’s ability, not their disability.  A job accommodation can always help an employee with a disability perform certain essential tasks, and the “Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)” considers an accommodation to be “any modification or adjustment to a job or work environment that enables a qualified person, with a disability, to apply for or perform a job.”  This perhaps may include screen reading software for employees who have low vision, raised desks for employees who use wheelchairs, or other adjustments such as a work schedule.

However, there are also federal tax incentives to encourage businesses to hire individuals with disabilities and offset the costs of workplace accommodation.

The main federal tax incentives are the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), available for hiring individuals from certain groups who have consistently faced significant barriers to employment, the Barrier Removal Deduction, whereby businesses can deduct up to $15,000 for making a facility or public transportation vehicle more accessible and the Disabled Access Credit, a non-refundable credit for small businesses that incur expenditures for the purpose of providing access to persons with disabilities.

Please, also remember that most business owners “never regret hiring a Vet.”  The Veteran’s Administration is another great source for disabled workers.

Robert Blaney has served as the district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration for the State of Arizona since 1998. His varied experience includes work as a federal agent, police officer, vice-president of an insurance brokerage and district director for the late Congressman Jack Kemp. He is a native of western New York and a graduate of the State University of New York Buffalo State University.

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