The benefits of hiring employees with disabilities: Opinion

This week, thousands of gifted athletes from across the nation are showcasing their talents in New Jersey during the 2014 USA Games of the Special Olympics. Those talents — from the track to the pool, the gymnasium to the court and beyond — serve as compelling reminders of another arena where these competitors oop-edsught to be given an opportunity to thrive: the workplace.

Yet employment remains disproportionately unreachable to people with disabilities. This week, when the athletes are demonstrating their capabilities to the country, is a fitting time for employers to commit to opening new opportunities for people with disabilities — not merely as a good deed, but as good business, too.

A recent Census Bureau report found that workers with disabilities are less likely to be employed and more likely to earn less if they are. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is more than double that for people without them.

That is not only wrong, it is bad business: a colossal and tragic waste of talent. Businesses that overlook people with disabilities are systematically narrowing their talent pools, excluding capable, productive workers who could give them a competitive edge.

Tom is one. He is a veteran of the Special Olympics, having medaled in swimming in the regional games in Connecticut. At 18, he is an accomplished chef whose innovative kitchen creations delight his family. He is, as well, a skilled technologist who knows his way around a personal computer better than his father does, an executive at a financial company, and who aspires to help connect people to personal technology.

Tom is also nearly blind. He was diagnosed on the autism spectrum as an infant. His parents were warned that he might never talk, walk or connect with others in a community.

I know because I am that father, and Tom is my son. As such, I know that the restaurant that someday hires him as a chef, the technology firm that chooses him as an engineer, or the families who engage him as a consultant to set up their computers will not be extending him a charitable service. They will be accessing skills that would have been unavailable to them had they chosen to overlook the talents of people with disabilities.

To reach these talents, companies must make a deliberate, forward-leaning commitment to recruit and train people with disabilities. The experience of other countries proves the value of doing so. For example, Prudential Financial has a program in its group of businesses in Japan that assesses and trains people with cognitive disabilities, which has succeeded in placing a few individuals in internal departments, including human resources.

Businesses here at home can start making that commitment — and realizing the return on investment that comes with it — by connecting with the growing networks around the country that advocate for workers with disabilities. Organizations such as Springboard Consulting and the National Organization on Disability partner with corporations on disability initiatives in the workforce and marketplace.

Companies should also organize internal work groups tasked with coordinating their business strategies with respect to people with disabilities. Perhaps most important, companies should make concrete commitments to recruit and retain people with disabilities — tangible goals to which they can hold themselves accountable.

Here is another example: Prudential operates a U.S. business resource group called ADAPT — Able and Disabled Associates Partnering Together — that supports the personal and professional development of its members. We started an internship program for young adults with disabilities and are now hiring our first full-time associates from that group.

We believe we are doing the right thing. But we are also doing the smart thing: ensuring we draw our talent from the widest pool, without excluding potentially productive associates.

Anyone who doubts the wisdom of extending opportunities to people with disabilities need only visit the Special Olympics. It is a truly inspiring environment. I will spend the bulk of this week at the games — not as a favor to the athletes, but to myself. Companies that hire these competitors will also be doing themselves a favor.

Stephen Pelletier is executive vice president and chief operating officer of Prudential’s U.S.-based businesses, comprising Prudential Investment Management, Prudential Retirement, Prudential Annuities, Individual Life Insurance and Group Insurance.

This article was shared from The Star-Ledger
by Stephen Pelletier posted on June 16, 2014
http://www.nj.com/opinion/index.ssf/2014/06the_benefits_of_hiring_employees_with_disabilities_opinion.html

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