By: Julie Dermody | Category: Special Interest | Issue: September 2009
Paul Anderson, Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services case worker, and Julie Dermody, job developer and soon-to-be graduate, explain how disabled workers offer many benefits to employers.
Given the chance, would you hire Albert Einstein for your company? Would you consider signing on FDR, Beethoven or Thomas Edison? Would you hire me? Along with some 354,000 work-aged Oklahomans, I have something in common with these men: I have a disability.
I often joke that I am blind in one eye and can’t see out of the other. Truth be told, there are very few things that my vision keeps me from doing. I am no Einstein, but in just a few months I will be graduating from Rogers State University with a bachelor’s degree in corporate communications – all because of the training and educational funding assistance I received from the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services. My dream is becoming a reality.
Hiring people with disabilities is not charity. According to statistics, not only are disabled workers capable employees, they have unusually strong work ethics and exhibit high levels of loyalty. Employers who hire people with disabilities create a positive corporate image, and in doing so qualify their business for additional tax benefits, such as deduction for costs of removing barriers to the disabled and elderly, disabled access credit, and Work Opportunity Tax Credit programs.
For those willing to hire certain classes of workers, financial incentives called Work Opportunity Tax Credits are available. This program is intended to increase employment opportunities for individuals in specific target groups.
"Employers have difficulty understanding how disabled people get to work everyday, let alone what is required to get them hired," said Jody Harlan, public information administrator for Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services. “For example, many employers think that hiring a disabled worker will be expensive. People are really surprised; accommodations are usually less than $500. It could be just making a larger cubicle for someone in a wheelchair."
Another myth many employers believe is that disabled workers are sick more often. "People think that disabled workers won't be there, and that's just not true," said Harlan.
Disabled workers offer many benefits to employers. One of the biggest advantages is that disabled workers are flexible. "They're able to overcome adversity and solve problems. They have trained themselves to adapt to their environment," Harlan explained.
An employer’s decision to hire from target groups does more than just improve the bottom line; it can help change lives, strengthen families, and transform communities. Workers get the chance they need to increase their income, become more independent, and decrease dependence on social service systems. Work Opportunity Tax Credits allow small businesses to grow their staff and decrease the negative impact of unemployment in their community.
Under the Work Opportunity Tax Credit program, the federal government pays up to 25 percent of a disabled employee's first-year wages, with a $6,000 cap (i.e. up to a $2,400 credit), for wages paid during the first 12 months. There is no limit on the number of new qualifying hires per business, or on the total amount of tax credits distributed per year.
A recent report from Cornell University suggests that businesses are overlooking what some researchers consider to be the largest untapped labor pool – disabled adults. The Cornell study notes that there are some 43 million working-age Americans with disabilities. However, this pool of workers is vastly underemployed, largely because of workplace attitudes, lack of corporate leadership, and insufficient training.
If you have a disability and would like more information on how this program can help you, or if you are an employer who wants more information on the advantages in hiring the disabled, please call (800) 845-8476 or visit www.okdrs.gov.