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5 reasons why focusing on ability – not disability – improves the workplace

Quality of Life Observer

- Mar 4 2014

Individuals living with a disability currently represent the single largest minority group in the US and number more than 1 billion worldwide. While many of them possess varied work skills, their unemployment rate in the US is 10 times higher than the national average. While it may be easier for employers to focus on disabilities, here are five reasons to focus, instead, on abilities.


Reason #1: Innovation – different paths, new discoveries

Stephen Hawking. Ludwig van Beethoven. Helen Keller. Some of the greatest innovators made their mark in history, perhaps, not in spite of their disability but thanks toit. According to a study by the Canadian government, the inclusion of disabled employees into the workplace can create an innovation advantage for companies. People with disabilities are constantly innovating, as they often need to find different ways to accomplish common tasks. This type of creative thinking can translate into the creation of new processes in the workplace that can improve the work environment for all employees.


Reason #2: Office culture – the benefits of another perspective

Individuals with disabilities add to the rich culture of the workplace and can even use their experiences to help employers and colleagues gain new perspectives.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Trust in New Zealand reported that workers actually benefit from increased workplace diversity as the range of experiences and approaches stimulates and interests staff.  


Reason #3: Social cohesion – creating a positive environment

Perhaps the most visible impact of workplace diversity is the effect it has on daily relationships within the workforce. An article published by Virginia Commonwealth University in 1999 shows that integrating individuals with disabilities increases camaraderie and cooperation among co-workers. Furthermore, employees with disabilities overwhelmingly expressed positive attitudes towards their bosses and colleagues, with more than 90% citing that they got along well with their supervisors. These types of positive relationships can have an overall impact on the quality of life at work.


Reason #4: Performance – numbers don’t lie

Integrating employees with disabilities is, more than ever, a savvy business decision. Companies such as Walgreens, have turned their focus towards hiring individuals with disabilities. In 2009, the US retail chain designed its Windsor, CT distribution centre specifically for employees with disabilities and hired a staff, including more than 40% of people with disabilities. As a result of the design and the resulting positive work environment, the facility not only holds the title as the company’s most productive distribution centre, but the safest as well.

This success is not unique to Walgreens, in fact, a 2006 study by the US Department of Education showed that workers with disabilities are consistently rated average or above average in terms of performance, quality and quantity of work.


Reason #5: Reliability – someone you can count on

Employees with disabilities are often described by their employers as, having a strong commitment to work, as well as good punctuality records and lower absentee rates. According to a 2001 Canadian survey conducted by Deloitte, people with disabilities rated 86% better in attendance and 72% better in staff retention rates.

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