Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Employers cannot let disability perceptions limit hiring choices

Hire disabled veterans and other disabled workers

One of Pepsi's Super Bowl ads provides a humorous take on two deaf men who cannot find the Super Bowl party at a friend's house. The ad was devised, written and acted by PepsiCo. employees with disabilities, and it illustrates how the company values its workers with disabilities.

People with disabilities want to work. Employment is key to independence. Today, more than 290,000 people with disabilities are employed in Michigan. They are shopkeepers, salespeople, managers and owners, succeeding at every level of business, government and nonprofit work. Yet, 65% of people with disabilities remain unemployed.

Employers know state and federal laws prohibit discriminating against people with disabilities and require reasonable workplace accommodations. The government also provides three federal tax incentives to encourage hiring people with disabilities:

The Disabled Access Tax Credit allows small businesses to take credits of up to $10,250 annually for 50% of the cost of modifications and accommodations.

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit gives employers a tax credit during the year of hire for certain people with disabilities, up to $2,400 per person ($4,800 for certain disabled veterans).

The Barrier Removal Tax Deduction allows an expense deduction up to $15,000 annually for making facilities and vehicles accessible for employees.
Technology also has removed many barriers in the workplace. People without speech use computers to work and communicate; screen readers make documents, computers and the Internet available to people without sight; scooters and power wheelchairs provide mobility, and high-speed connections make "teleworking" from home viable.

Yet, discrimination still exists. Why? The biggest barrier is the silent questioning going on inside the mind of an employer about an applicant with a disability: "Can she really do the work?"

A few tips in response:

Don't try to picture yourself doing the job with the applicant's disability. You can't know how it will work because you haven't lived with the disability.

Learn how to interview correctly; you'll get the information you need from the applicant and you'll follow the law. For more detail, explore Web sites that describe how employers should interview and hire.

Provide accommodations to workers with disabilities. Having a wheelchair-accessible entry and bathroom makes your office easy to visit for people with disabilities.

Earn and take advantage of tax incentives.
Hiring the right person for the job should not be made harder by letting unspoken perceptions and lack of knowledge about correct interviewing procedures keep employers from missing the opportunity to tap into a talented group of workers.

As the two men in the ad repeatedly honk the car's horn and one after another annoyed homeowner comes to the door, they find the house of their deaf friends, the only ones who hadn't heard the horn. Honking is not how everyone would have solved the problem, but it's a great example of the value of diverse abilities.

Every company should value a diverse set of skills and perspectives in its employees - to face a constantly changing world.

Linda Potter is executive director of United Cerebral Palsy of Michigan

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