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Think Twice- Disabling Some Old Stereotypes

August 13, 2002
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Related Topics: Disabilities, Featured Article
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If you and your CFO had a baby—maybe not an appealing thought, but anyhow—this is what the child, with her HR-Finance DNA, would dream about: Millions of dollars in tax credits. Retention rates that are exponentially higher than they are now. Millions of dollars of savings in lower turnover costs.

Actually, this dream came true. Pizza Hut has employed thousands of individuals with disabilities over the last decade and a half, and turnover among them is approximately 100 percent less than turnover among other new hires. Pizza Hut has saved millions of dollars from this lower turnover. On top of that, it has received millions of dollars in federal tax credits for hiring job candidates with disabilities, in this case often mental retardation.

There are about 54 million Americans with disabilities. Most don’t have jobs. Most want jobs. Most deserve them.

Many employers unintentionally discriminate against applicants with disabilities when interviewing. They’re worried they’ll be less productive and less reliable. They’ll use more health care, which will cost you more.

These are legitimate concerns for a business trying to keep costs down and make a nice profit. The problem is that they usually aren’t true.


DuPont found that employees with disabilities have above-average records in job performance, attendance, and safety.

The Job Accommodation Network is a group of consultants in West Virginia, funded by the government, who work for free to advise employers and employees about disabilities. The consultants at JAN say that about 20 percent of accommodations for employees with disabilities cost nothing. The median accommodation—like buying a comfortable stool for a grocery checkout person with a back injury, so he doesn’t have to stand—costs $250. That’s not a lot of money when your return on investment is like Pizza Hut’s. In addition, there are tax credits that can help you defray these costs.

There’s more data. In a 30-year study, DuPont found that employees with disabilities have above-average records in job performance, attendance, and safety. IT&T found that its workers who had disabilities had fewer absences than those who did not.

There are many examples of employees with disabilities who are more productive than others. Six years ago, Burlington Coat Factory in Brown Deer, Wisconsin, hired Anne Rindfleisch to run the computer room. The company projected that the job would require a full-time operator to manage incoming merchandise, print contracts, and deal with transfers.

Burlington hired Rindfleisch, who did the job, and still does the job, in only 20 hours a week. She has no arms or legs.

A Harris poll found that 82 percent of managers surveyed said that employees with disabilities were no harder to manage than anyone else. John Dziewa agrees. He’s spent more than 14 years programming, and managing programmers, at Fiserv, a financial company in Milwaukee. “People with disabilities tend to be more dependable,” he says. “They’re concerned about the disability being seen as a liability.” Dziewa is paralyzed from the chest down.

On the question of health-care costs, The Hartford, a leading disability insurer in Connecticut, says that once an employee has acquired a disability, there’s no difference in medical utilization between those who have disabilities and those who don’t.

If you want to hire someone with a disability, here are four ways to either find these candidates or get information that can help you work effectively with an employee who has a disability:

1) Contact the Job Accommodation Network— www.jan.wvu.edu. I’ve talked to them several times over the last eight years and they’re not a hard-to-get-hold-of bureaucracy, but rather a group of people who legitimately want to help. JAN can give you advice about hiring and accommodating employees who are disabled and has on its Web site a long list of suggestions on how to accommodate specific disabilities. It also can tell you where to get tax-credit information.

2) Call the Labor Department’s new toll-free number, (888) 695-8289. They’ll tell you where in your area you can find applicants with disabilities.

3) Contact Goodwill Industries International—www.goodwill.org or (800) 664-6577. Goodwill trains and places candidates with disabilities, including Anne Rindfleisch, and does a good job.

4) Ask a rehabilitation center in your state. You’ll find a list of them at www.jan.wvu.edu/sbses/vocrehab.htm.

If your results are half as good as Pizza Hut’s, hiring these candidates will help you beat the competition. The chain is one of America’s largest employers of people with disabilities. It takes a lot of ability to serve 1.7 million pizzas every day.

Workforce, August 2002, p. 88 -- Subscribe Now

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