Labor Day was first celebrated on September 5th, 1882 in New York City and was enacted to celebrate the important contributions that American workers provide for our economy. It is also a celebration of worker’s rights in America. Workers are given a day off on the 1st Monday of September in honor of Labor Day, and while everyone is excited about having a long weekend, not everyone is able to return to their jobs on Tuesday.
People with disabilities have a lot of barriers when it comes to finding meaningful careers and gainful employment. Sometimes employers are reluctant to hire people with disabilities due to negative and false stereotypes, and this is known as an attitudinal barrier or a type of discrimination that is caused by a bad mindset.
In honor of Labor Day, I am going to bust five myths about employing people with disabilities. Let’s change some attitudes!
Myth 1: People with disabilities are lazy and do not want to work.
This is NOT true. People with disabilities are people, and therefore we all have individual attributes. Everyone is different. Some people with disabilities might be lazy, but some people without disabilities are lazy, too. There is no link between disability and poor work ethic. People with disabilities have drive and passion; we want to help our communities, just like everyone else. If you hire a person with a disability and give them a chance, you can see this for yourself!
Myth 2: People with disabilities do not have the knowledge or experience required to hold down a job.
People with disabilities, especially cognitive disabilities such as autism or intellectual disabilities, can be denied educational opportunities. For example, someone graduating high school may get a certificate instead of a diploma. This can lead employers to believe that the person is unqualified for a job. However, that is NOT true. Programs such as vocational rehabilitation and job coaching are designed to help people with disabilities learn job skills; some of those skills include interpersonal skills, planning, money management, time management, professionalism, and even academic skills such as reading and math. Every person with a disability who wasn’t allowed to earn a diploma was denied educational opportunities. Don’t deny them an opportunity for employment as well! Help break the cycle!
Myth 3: If I interview a person with a disability, then I have to hire them or else I will be sued for discrimination.
This one is the most blatantly false. Employers should treat people with disabilities in the same way that they would treat any other job candidate. While there are protective laws in place to prevent job candidates from being rejected BECAUSE of a disability, there is no law stating that anyone MUST hire a person with a disability. Similar laws apply to things like race, gender, and religion. Think about it like that. A person with a disability might be a great fit for your business, but if they aren’t, it’s perfectly okay to tell them so and wish them luck with their next interview!
Myth 4: Accommodations are too expensive, and I can’t afford to hire people with disabilities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act entitles people with disabilities to “reasonable accommodations” in their place of employment, but those accommodations cannot cause an “undue burden” on the business owner. Accommodations must be affordable, and most of them are free or low cost! This can easily be explained through an example from my own life. I have cerebral palsy and rheumatoid arthritis, both of which make it difficult for me to write by hand. An example of “undue burden” would be requesting an assistant to help me write. It would be very expensive to hire another person to do transcriptions; that’s a second salary! An example of a “reasonable accommodation” that I currently get is the ability to type my notes on a smartphone or tablet instead of writing them by hand. And guess what? That’s completely free and easy to do, just like most accommodations!
Myth 5: People with disabilities do not bring anything to the workplace.
Oh boy, is this one wrong! People with disabilities have a unique skill set. Adapting to an inaccessible society fosters creativity, ingenuity, and resilience. People with disabilities are used to overcoming hardships caused by ableism and this makes for tough and dedicated employees. Some disabilities can even be considered an advantage in the workplace. I have autism. Autism makes it very easy for me to focus on my interests, and one of my main interests is disability rights and disabilities. I have been writing this blog post for almost two hours and I am just as enthusiastic as I was when I first started. I am completely absorbed in my writing and I am difficult to distract. This is a strength of mine and all people with disabilities have strengths.
My message to people with disabilities this Labor Day is: Don’t give up on your dream of having a career! The right job is out there waiting for you. You might not be able to find a full-time job right away but put yourself out there. Help your family! Volunteer! Work part time! You have worth and value whether you make money or not, and you never know when you will find a great opportunity to help others!
My message to employers this Labor Day is really quite simple: Hire people with disabilities, because we will surpass your expectations and surprise and amaze you!
Written By: Grace Trumpower