How to manage ‘differently-abled’ workforce?

Differently-abled workforce

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Almost one-third of Americans entering the workforce today will become disabled before they retire, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration. This may be a surprising or hard-to-digest information for many people, but employers and HR leaders can’t ignore it. Leading Practices on Disability Inclusion – a report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – observes that many companies have already taken care of this issue and ensured that differently-abled workforce could get equal opportunity in their organizations. The report includes case studies from companies such as 3M, Merck, AOL and Northrop Grumman. It concludes that hiring people with disabilities is good for the bottom-line.

Takeaways from the report

  1. Differently-abled people tend to stay more loyal than others.
  2. They are committed to their employer and show higher retention rates.
  3. Increased tenure reduces the costs of training and integrating new staff into the business.
  4. Hiring differently-abled workforce also helps companies in embracing their corporate social responsibility (CSR).
  5. Most importantly, such practices promote a diverse workplace and raise team morale.

Common challenges with differently-abled workforce

Speed and Productivity

This is one of the biggest challenges especially in factory or manufacturing units with an assembly line. Differently-abled employees sometimes are not able to work at a pace comparable to other employees. They may take longer time to read or interpret documents, understand instructions or take a bit longer to move files on their desk.

Infrastructures and Technological challenges

In the USA, it is a mandate (by the law) for companies to make the workplace infrastructure friendly for the differently-abled workforce. For example, companies must modify physical aspects of the workstation to make it friendly for the disabled people or there must be a wheelchair ramp. Additionally, companies may require speech-recognition programs or software for disabled people. Many companies sometimes count it as a financial burden. However, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce report observes that disabled employees compensate the cost with productivity and loyalty.


Despite the stringent law, many differently-abled employees face discrimination at the workplace. For example, some managers may resist having differently-abled employees in their teams. In some circumstances, HR department may intervene and settle conflicts. Employers may also periodically communicate with employees, organize workshops or remind them about the definition and consequences of workplace discrimination.

Best jobs for differently-abled workforce

Disability isn’t necessarily a disadvantage in many businesses. For example, “speed” does not matter in the art restoration business, whereas quality does. According to the 2013 Jobs Rated report, the top ten jobs and the median annual income for differently-abled people include:

JobsMedian Annual Income
Financial Analyst$76,950
Management Consultant$78,600
Market Research Analyst$60,300
Pharmaceutical Sales$56,620
Pharmacy Technician$29,300
Physician Assistant$90,930
Software Engineer$85,430
Vocational Counselor$53,610
Wholesale Sales Representative$74,970

How to make the workplace friendly for the differently-abled workforce?

With assistive technology (which may cost less than $500) and by integrating it with the HRIS system, companies can make the technology friendly for the differently-abled workforce. With the help of assistive technologies, differently-abled people can easily communicate with other employees and work on digital devices. In addition, there are many other steps which HR department may consider. Some of the important steps are listed here:

  1. First of all, HR department must update its HRIS data with the long-term health reports of its workforce.
  2. HR department may offer flexibility in working hours and dress code rules for differently-abled employees. The time tracking devices (if implemented) should be able to manage these different rules.
  3. Employers may offer accommodations to differently-abled people in office premises or at client’s locations.
  4. Employers should ensure that all internal communications, meetings, training and other tools are accessible and easy to use for the differently-abled workforce.
  5. They should organize special workshops to educate all its employees (especially managers) on disabilities etiquette, language and work habits of differently-abled people. Policies should be articulated clearly and documentation available freely to ensure that discrimination is avoided.

Final thought

Differently-abled workforce can be an important asset for your organization. As an employer or an HR professional it is important that you create policies and an environment such that you can provide equal opportunities to such a workforce. It is not only your social responsibility but it can be a profitable business proposition too.

TAGS: HRIS systems, Talent Management

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