What happens when businesses hire employees with disabilities or special needs? A recently viral video of Sam the “dancing barista” offers a peek. When Chris Ali hired 17 year-old Sam at a Toronto Starbucks, he found that music helped calm the symptoms of his autism, and dancing reduced his involuntary movements. Sam had increased focus and enjoyed being productive with just the help of some tunes.
A majority of people with disabilities express a desire to work, but only 3.5 percent in the Garden State are employed. With a 2012 announcement from Governor Chris Christie declaring New Jersey an Employment First state, growing that figure became a priority. The initiative aims to make competitive employment accessible to people with any type of disability. Partnerships and subcontracts have already created employment opportunities for people with mental health and substance abuse disorders, while expanding Medicaid opened services and support to more people with disabilities.
Identifying industry needs is a critical part of the initiative, but positive results are already apparent when business owners take the lead in hiring people with disabilities. Employees with disabilities are generally loyal, hardworking, and reliable. A study from DePaul University revealed that their job performance scores are nearly identical to their coworkers without disabilities. Inclusion of people with special needs in the workplace has also been shown to increase morale.
Perhaps part of the hesitation in hiring people with disabilities is a fear of costs to accommodate them. The aforementioned study found that for most companies, these costs were minimal and spent on adaptive tools like large-print computers and special lights. Many accommodations come at no cost to the employer, such as personal assistants or sign language interpreters. Business owners shouldn’t fear making these allowances: The National Governors Association found that a Walgreens facility experienced a 120 percent productivity increase after making the space universally accessible for a group of employees in which over 50 percent have a disability.
Intel, Microsoft, McDonalds, Starbucks, and other companies have been recognized for hiring people with special needs. If a humanitarian outlook does not sway more businesses to rethink their hiring practices, proof of engagement will as we begin to recognize workers of all abilities for their assets.