Adding Diversity to Your Workforce


A lingering myth surrounding the Americans with Disabilities Act is that it forces employers to hire unqualified individuals with disabilities. In fact, unqualified candidates are not protected under the ADA. To be protected from discrimination in hiring, an individual must first meet all requirements for a job and be able to perform its essential functions with or without reasonable accommodations.

According to the US Office of Disability Employment website, diversity actually encompasses the infinite range of individuals’ unique attributes and experiences. As the nation’s largest minority—comprising almost 50 million individuals—people with disabilities should be a key component of any diversity program. A Covenant Investment Management study of the Standard and Poor’s 500 found that companies ranking high on workplace diversity returned profits that were twice as high as companies ranked low. Awareness of the benefits of hiring individuals with disabilities is strong.

A path to successfully diversifying your workforce with people who have disabilities is to start your staffing search by working with an employment services agency that has pre-screened, highly qualified job candidates…who happen to have disabilities.

“Think of your business first,” said Nanette Cohen, Director of Employment Development at JVS Chicago. “The individuals we place are qualified; we aren’t asking employers to hire someone who isn’t. “

“Slower, more methodical change is better received by other employees, and education and support are important for it to be successful,” Cohen said. “When you bring in diversity a little at a time, don’t try to create a whole new environment at once; you don’t need to disrupt the current work flow.”

No Set Formula for Success

Successfully expanding diversity “depends on the company,” said Leah Rudy, Supervisor of Client Services at JVS Chicago. “One of the ways that we’re different from some agencies is that we really work to meet employers’ as well as the clients’ needs.”

Cohen said she wants to know the goals of the company –“its mission and values”—before recommending any action.

When doing employer outreach employer, said Helene Levine, Manager of Work Place Services, “we gather relevant information about employment opportunities, qualifications and essential functions of each job opening. This provides us the opportunity to do an effective client-to-job match. Disability disclosure is a personal choice. If a client feels that an accommodation may be necessary to fulfill an essential function of a job than we encourage that client to share that information with the employer. Developing employer relationships is one of our goals. We wish to serve equally both the client and the employer. We can also provide job coaching to assist client’s in achieving job success. Employers understand that, if needed, the vast majority of accommodations or adjustments to the workplace are often simple and inexpensive.

That employer relationship includes post-hiring support and even a job coach on site if needed, Cohen said—“our goal is to have new employees be there on their own. But we help as needed until we achieve that goal.” JVS Chicago post-hire support continues until it’s no longer needed, and it is provided free of charge.

Trending in the Right Direction

“Adding diversity to the workplace makes for a more creative environment,” Cohen said, “leading to a better bottom line. It’s also a learning experience and socialization for the employees. Diversity creates a better workforce.”

“Our goal is to include people with disabilities who can and wish to work to have opportunities to do so,” said Levine. “It makes good business sense for employers to include people with disabilities as part of their work force.”

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