Perfectly Able: How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities

Perfectly Able: How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities

by Lighthouse International

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More than 22 million of the almost 173 million working-age individuals in the United States have one or more disabilities. Perfectly Able offers practical guidance for companies large and small on how to hire and retain talented and motivated people from within this largely untapped pool of potential employees. Illustrated with enlightening personal stories, this one-of-a-kind book provides insight into what it’s like to seek employment as an individual with a disability. Readers will discover how to: • Evaluate how suited their workplace environment is for disabled or different employees and what needs to be changed • Improve and sustain their workforce by hiring the best people, regardless of any disability or diversity issue • Effectively recruit, place, and develop individuals with disabilities who can contribute to their company’s success • Embrace the differences among their workforce to add value to the organization

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814415658
Publisher: AMACOM
Publication date: 09/01/2010
Sold by: HarperCollins Publishing
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 272
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

LIGHTHOUSE INTERNATIONAL, founded in 1905, is the leading nonprofit organization world wide dedicated to preserving vision and to helping people of all ages overcome the challenges of vision loss.
JIM HASSE is an Accredited Business Communicator and Global Career Development Facilitator. He was previously senior content developer of eSight Careers Network, the premier social networking website for visually or physically impaired job seekers.

Read an Excerpt

Perfectly Able

How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities


Copyright © 2010 Lighthouse International
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8144-1565-8

Chapter One

Gain a Better Awareness of Disability

This chapter gives you an overview of the concept of employing disabled workers. It explores the reasons why your workforce will increasingly include workers with disabilities. This will happen in the natural course of events as seniors keep working longer, but there also are solid reasons for seeking out disabled people to improve your workforce. If you leave disability awareness out of your diversity program, you truly shortchange your company and your employees. This chapter also discusses methods of incorporating disabled employees into your workforce and describes the benefits your company will derive from hiring qualified workers with disabilities.

How Inclusive Recruiting Will Help You Prepare for Coming Changes in the Employment Landscape

For most businesses today, diversity no longer means recruiting "minority" groups so the employment numbers look "representative" on paper. Instead, diversity is all about capturing and retaining individuals who are creative and talented—and doing that by fostering a workplace climate that recognizes, values, and supports ideas from every direction.

Diversity is inclusion. Diversity is embracing differences. It's the only way to compete as a business in today's marketplace.

In 2006, the overall percentage (prevalence rate) of working-age (21 to 64) people with a disability in the United States was 12.9 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. In other words, 22,382,000 of the 172,961,000 working-age individuals reported one or more disabilities.

Are your competitors overlooking nearly 13 percent of the labor market? If they are, they are in trouble. And you can gain an edge over them. You can do this by embracing differences in both employees and customers; hiring the best talent within this pool of working-age people with disabilities; and taking advantage of two colliding, long-range population trends.

As a business executive, you track trends that may have an impact on your company's future well-being. Some of the most important trends are about your workforce.

After all, unemployment isn't just about people being out of work. It's also about businesses being able to draw on and support a productive workforce. Keeping on top of population trends gives you the preparation time you need to tap and strengthen the best potential workers available.

Any single trend in the available workforce is important to you. Sometimes more than one trend will overlap, but this isn't always starkly evident from an employment perspective. You may hear, "There will be twice as many X in the workforce," but not about some other trend affecting X (such as a population drift, the introduction of new philosophies about training those future employees, or health issues increasingly affecting that group).

Still, you may be getting only half the story if you aren't tracking these collateral trends as well. What good is it to know that your workforce will need to draw on, say, more mothers with school-age children, if those women are migrating to rural areas far from your facilities?

Two trends that do overlap and will color your decisions about human resources in the next two or three decades involve the increasingly older workforce.

Each of the first three decades of the twenty-first century will add 25 million more Americans over age 65, according to Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics (see agingstatsdotnet/Main_Site/Data/2008_Documents/Population.aspx). These aging baby boomers "may be headed for a financial crisis, because they have saved, on average, only 12 percent of what they believe they will need to meet basic living expenses during retirement," a crisis that will cause them to delay or interrupt their retirement to bring in an income ("Allstate Financial 'Retirement Reality Check' Reveals Financial Crisis for Baby Boomers Heading into Retirement," PR Newswire, at

Many of those baby boomers may become disabled. For example, consider this collateral trend: According to the Allstate study, "Over one million Americans aged 40 and over are currently blind, and an additional 2.4 million are visually impaired. These numbers are expected to double over the next 30 years as the baby boomer generation ages."

Let's put this into a larger context. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 51.8 percent of Americans aged 65 and older in 2005 were estimated to have a disability ("Americans with Disabilities: 2005," U.S. Census Bureau, issued December 2008, 2008pubs/p70-117.pdf).

Although clearly not all of the over-65 workers you eventually retain, rehire, or add to your workforce will be disabled, it is likely you will be increasingly required to address a range of workplace accessibility issues. Workers who do not regard themselves as disabled but who do need assistance may not be familiar with the many tools that they can use to keep working productively. It will largely be up to you to prepare for this eventuality.

Trend One: Seniors Will Keep Working

Four factors will contribute to the continuously increasing number of workers who are of retirement age: economics, changes in retirement age, continuing need for personal achievement, and employers' need to keep older workers on the job.

First, many people will not be able to afford to retire. Boomers have a hard reality to face upon retiring, according to economists. In spite of all the predictions that they will redefine what it means to be retired, be more physically active, and champion consumer issues, the fact is that many, maybe even most, will simply not be able to afford not to work, especially after the severe economic downturns during the first decade of the twenty-first century slashed their retirement funds.

Those retirees who are able to work are likely to find themselves striving to keep their jobs just to make ends meet. And the likelihood is that a good many will be forced to stretch the definition of "able."

As an employer, you will be in a position to leverage this need to work by not only retaining workers but also bringing experienced workers back to fill short-term needs.

Second, the age for eligibility for Social Security retirement benefits is going up incrementally. That age will eventually climb from 62 to 67, with a substantial reduction in benefits for early retirees. During the next couple of decades, your employees won't be taking early retirement nearly at the same rate as they have in recent years.

This means that many older Americans will spend at least two to five years longer in the workforce or face a reduced lifestyle.

Third, many older people will want to keep working. While many will choose—and demand—volunteer opportunities that are substantial, others will choose to keep working or will go back to work if their need for meaningful volunteer work is not met by volunteer programs still operating on outmoded models.

You will need to recognize the value of older workers. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging, the myth of failing competence in older persons is based on an anachronistic picture of the world of work based on industrial and other physically demanding labor. With technology creating a greater emphasis on brain-work over "brawn-work," employers are tapping into minds that do not necessarily fail with age.

The high-tech tools of today's workforce are extremely conducive to maintaining an older, more experienced and knowledgeable workforce. Further, the coming "senior" population represents a group more familiar and comfortable with these tools than were their predecessors. And, fourth, despite tough economic times, you will still need these older workers. Rehiring retirees usually involves people with specific skills or specific knowledge who can fill in when work units are short-staffed.

You will find it extremely economical to rehire workers. This will especially be true of those who only recently retired from doing high-level work for you at significant salaries. Many will be willing to come back part-time or on a contract basis in what are increasingly termed "retirement jobs" for much less than they earned before retirement and with scaled-down or no benefit packages to drain your coffers.

Trend Two: The Number of Visually Impaired People Will Rise Substantially

The rise in the number of people over 65 by itself will increase the prevalence of visual impairment in the U.S. population and, by extension, among older working people.

About one in eight Americans is 65 or older according to Dr. Paul A. Sieving, director of the National Eye Institute, in his article spotlighting the institute's research on projections of an increasing rate of blindness ("Vision Problems in the U.S.: Prevalence of Adult Visual Impairment and Age-Related Eye Diseases in America," the National Eye Institute, The research demonstrates that the overall increase in blindness is heavily influenced by the rising median age.

Why does an increase in visual impairment follow from the "Graying of America"? Eye diseases arising from or intensified by age become more common as the ranks of older people rise. One of the more common causes of visual impairment, macular degeneration, is primarily an age-related condition.

According to AMD Alliance International, an estimated 13 million people in the United States had some form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in 2009. In fact, AMD was the leading cause of blindness among Americans of European descent in 2004, says the Eye Diseases Prevalence Research Group. In addition, AMD is the leading cause of vision impairment among Americans over 65, according to Prevent Blindness America.

With the aging of the "baby boomer" generation, it is expected that the number of cases of AMD will increase significantly in the years ahead, the American Macular Degeneration Foundation points out.

There are two other eye diseases that are not limited to the aging process but increase in prevalence with age: cataracts and glaucoma. More than half the people over age 65 have some degree of cataract development, according to The Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology ( August-is-National-Cataract-Awareness-Month.cfm). As for glaucoma, it affects some 3 million Americans and is a leading cause of blindness among all ages in the United States.

Retinopathy (due to diabetes) becomes more common as the incidence of diabetes itself increases—in particular the onset of adult type 2 diabetes. The National Institutes of Health has declared diabetes the epidemic of our times. "About 20 percent of type 2 patients have some eye damage when diagnosed, and blurred vision is common," adds WebMD. More than 24 million Americans have diabetes, and diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults 20 to 74 (American Optometric Association).

Losing vision because of age does not necessarily mean the older worker is in failing health or is losing faculties. An older person with low vision can be as sharp and fit as ever and does not need to retire from working. It just means a person needs to learn new ways to do things for which he or she previously used sight. There are a range of technologies and rehabilitation services to enable a worker to remain productive and effective on the job.

What the Collision of These Trends Will Mean for You

Referring to the increasing proportion of older persons in the United States, the National Eye Institute's Dr. Sieving cautions, "When you add declining mortality rates and population shifts, such as the 'baby boomers,' the number of older people will grow dramatically in the years ahead. Blindness and visual impairment represent not only a significant burden to those affected by sight loss but also to the national economy as well." The same statement can be made about aging and disability in general.

One way to counteract the economic impact of more workers who are older and who have a disability is to create a workplace now that is inclusive of disability. Another way is to help your colleagues become literate about the adaptations that can be made to remove the impact of disability within your workplace.

The worker who becomes disabled because of age will not be like the disabled workers you are hiring now. Younger disabled people are more likely to self-identify as individuals who happen to have a disability. These younger people are less likely to regard vulnerability as an obstacle to work. They are more likely to be aware of (and have used) adaptive technology, such as scooters, crutches, and screen readers. They are more likely to have experienced working while being disabled.

By contrast, the older adult, for instance, who starts losing vision because of age, identifies herself as an older person but not as a visually impaired individual. It is common to hear older people deny their blindness, even if they are, by definition, legally blind. They will say, "I just don't see as well as I used to." They do not know there are ways around visual impairment. They may not be aware that visual impairment does not mean an inability to keep working. And they almost certainly will not be as knowledgeable about the tools to gain access to information and to carry out on-the-job tasks.

The current emphasis is on helping older adults (at the onset of a disability) to achieve skills so they can stay independent—but not to send them back to work.

Therefore, it may very well fall to you to be the one "in the know" about what an existing or returning older employee who has a disability can do to stay on the job. Building disability awareness and developing inclusive hiring and advancement practices into your business now will allow you to be adept at such challenges before they become critical in the years ahead. This book is designed to help you prepare for that opportunity.

Hiring younger workers with a disability now can be your transition to and practice for being able to keep older, productive workers on the job as these two trends (older adults who are newly disabled but still working) change the employment landscape in the United States.

That means you may have to help your company reevaluate its diversity initiative.

Why Your Diversity Initiative Needs to Include Disability

"Well begun is half done." This familiar rhyme means that getting started is a major step toward a goal. But, in the case of diversity awareness programs, it can also be a caution. A diversity initiative that does not include disability is only half of a program.

Employers, schools, organizations, and government offices have reaped the rewards of creating a better understanding about race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and gender preference. But this rainbow only goes part of the way across the sky. If you leave out disability in your diversity program, the rainbow is not complete. And you will never reach the pot of gold.

What You Miss with Half of a Diversity Initiative

During a time when employers in some sectors of the U.S. job market are finding it difficult to recruit and retain skilled and loyal workers, it seems strange that one group of potential job candidates goes virtually untapped. According to the President's Committee on Employment of Disabled Persons, approximately 75 percent of people with disabilities are able to work and are interested in joining the workforce but are unemployed.

Today's technology makes nearly any work situation possible for these job seekers. So, statements from employers that they can't fill empty positions are hollow. Such assertions demonstrate that employers continue to be misinformed about the opportunities they have to recruit qualified job candidates with disabilities.

People with disabilities bring unique benefits to a workplace, and those benefits outweigh the simple requirement that they receive equal opportunity to join and advance in it. As employees, people with disabilities generally have great work records. According to studies dating back to the 1950s at DuPont, "Employees with disabilities equal or exceed coworkers without disabilities in job performance, attendance and attention to safety."

In addition to considerable commitment and enthusiasm for work, individuals with a disability often have superior experience in one vital area of any job: problem solving. This is why some use the term "challenged" to describe people with disabilities. They face and overcome challenges on a daily basis. They have a lifetime of practice doing just what your best employees need to do: solve problems.


Excerpted from Perfectly Able Copyright © 2010 by Lighthouse International. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword: Roads More Easily Traveled....................xi
Preface: An Opportunity—Not a Responsibility....................xv
Chapter 1: Gain a Better Awareness of Disability....................1
Chapter 2: Foster a Company Culture That Is Receptive to Disability....................33
Chapter 3: Make Your Recruiting Efforts Disability Inclusive....................63
Chapter 4: Identify Job Candidates Who Will Thrive in Your Corporate Culture....................121
Chapter 5: Approach People Management from a Disability Perspective....................163
Appendix A: Comprehensive Resource List for Hiring People with Disabilities....................231
Appendix B: About eSight Careers Network....................239
Appendix C: eSight Careers Network Article Links....................243

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