Debra Ruh is committed to helping disabled candidates find jobs in the tech industry and to hiring them at her company, TecAccess, a consulting firm that assists employers in making their computer software and hardware more accessible to the disabled. Most of her 32 employees have a physical disability ranging from blindness to impaired mobility.
Ruh, whose daughter Sara has Down syndrome, doesn't need incentives to hire the disabled, who she calls the ultimate problem solvers. But a tax break would be nice, she says. However, she has never applied for any disability tax credit programs and has no plans to, given the red tape and paperwork involved.
"I've never once taken a tax credit even though I've employed lots of disabled people," says Ruh, who founded the Richmond, Virginia-based company 10 years ago and is also CEO. "There's just too much paperwork. I hear that over and over. Not just in small business but in medium and large ones, too. Most businesses don't use tax credit because it's too restrictive and too cumbersome."
The folks behind a new online tool called Hire Gauge hope to change that.
Developed by Think Beyond the Label, a public-private partnership that focuses on increasing job opportunities for the disabled, the free tool helps employers calculate the potential cost benefits of hiring someone with a disability. Hire Gauge illustrates the tax savings that can accumulate when a company hires a disabled employee, which for a typical large business can reach $31,800 per hire.
Think Beyond the Label is funded by Health & Disability Advocates, a Chicago-based policy and advocacy organization, and 40 social services agencies across the country that provide assistance to the disabled.
"We heard from many employers that you guys don't make it easy for us to hire because the information is all over the place," says Barbara Otto, CEO of Health & Disability Advocates. "We've tried to create a digital hub to put all the information in one place."
Hire Gauge, which is available at thinkbeyondthelabel.com, asks users a series of questions about their business and disability hiring practices, and calculates the cash incentives for which the business is eligible. The tool focuses on three federal tax incentive programs: the Work Opportunity Credit, which can provide a maximum $2,400 tax credit; the Disabled Access Credit, which helps small business defray the costs of providing special equipment, sign language interpreters or other expenses for the disabled; and the Architectural Barrier Removal Tax Deduction, which provides a deduction of up to $15,000 for the removal of architectural and transportation barriers to persons with disabilities and senior citizens.
In addition to these existing incentives, President Barack Obama has proposed doubling the Wounded Warrior Tax Credit for companies that hire veterans with service-related disabilities as part of his Veterans Emploment Initiative, which also includes incentives for hiring unemployed vets. The Wounded Warriors credit would provide employers a maximum $9,600 credit for hiring long-term unemployed veterans with a service-related disability and $4,800 for all other disabled vets.
"The Wounded Warrior program has been really successful and that helps the cause of all people with disabilities," says Suzanne Robitaille, a spokeswoman for Think Beyond the Label. "Hopefully, it's raising awareness and helping employers learn how to go about hiring the disabled."
And disabled people could use the boost that these programs aim to provide. While the general unemployment rate hovers around 9 percent, the jobless rate for people with disabilities is 16.1 percent as of September—the most recent month for which figures are available—up considerably from the year before, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
While tax incentives are important to many businesses, Ruh says that most employers who hire the disabled aren't motivated by tax breaks.
"Employers want people who are qualified to take the job, period," she says. "Sometimes to attract and retain a good employee you have to accommodate them. You accommodate the guy who broke his arm in a skiing accident. So you do that as well as for the employees that can't use their hands or are blind or have a traumatic brain injury.
"It's an accommodation so that your employees will be more productive. A tax break, too? That's just icing on the cake."
Rita Pyrillis is Workforce Management's senior writer. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.