Steps Small Businesses Can Take to Recruit and Retain Qualified People with Disabilities

Looking for a path to a disability-inclusive workplace?  Whether you’re just starting out or looking for ways to enhance already existing efforts, there are a number of steps you can take. Start your journey by checking them out.

Internships & Mentoring

Many businesses, especially small businesses, cite internships as an effective personnel strategy because they offer a way to both fill anticipated short-term staffing needs and evaluate potential staff for permanent positions in the future—especially those who may be new to the workforce. Internships can also be an effective strategy for achieving disability diversity. In fact, research shows that employers who have internships for people with disabilities are 4.5 times more likely to hire a person with a disability than those who do not. A related practice is workplace mentoring, which benefits workers with and without disabilities, not to mention their employers.  Increasing numbers of employers are implementing formal or informal mentoring programs as a way to improve employees’ supervisory skills and job satisfaction and promote a positive corporate image.  Like internships, mentoring programs can also serve as an effective employee recruitment and retention tool by helping to identify future talent for the organization.

Expressions of Commitment

Expressing commitment, both internally and externally, is one of the easiest ways to foster a disability-inclusive workplace. Examples include equal opportunity statements that specifically mention disability on company websites, statements by top company leaders, advertisements featuring people with disabilities, articles in employee newsletters about disability-related issues and more. Such simple strategies go a long way toward communicating an inclusive workplace culture that seeks the skills and talents of all applicants and employees.


Finding qualified candidates with disabilities need not be challenging. Building relationships with various local recruitment sources, such as local vocational rehabilitation specialists, American Job Centers, disability service providers and other organizations is a key strategy. In many cases, such organizations can connect businesses with candidate databases or identify service providers in local communities to assist in identifying and training individuals for specific workforce needs.

Accommodations / Productivity Enhancements

All employees need the right tools and work environment to effectively perform their jobs. Similarly, people with disabilities may need workplace adjustments, or accommodations, to maximize their productivity. Having a clear process for requesting and providing accommodations is an easy step small businesses can take to send a clear signal about their commitment to a disability-inclusive workforce.

Whether they realize it or not, accommodations are something most employers provide—to employees both with and without disabilities—every day. They span the tangible, such as certain technologies or special chairs or desks, to the non-tangible, such as a flexible schedule or the opportunity to telecommute. Regardless, most accommodations are no or low cost, while yielding considerable direct and indirect benefits through increased retention and productivity.

Workplace Flexibility / Customizing the Work Relationship

Today, more and more employers are learning that they don’t have to do things the old fashioned way. To stay competitive, many are thinking outside the proverbial box to meet the diverse needs of individual employees. One increasingly popular strategy on this front is workplace flexibility—a practice that breeds employee loyalty and enables many workers to perform to their fullest potential.

Workplace flexibility takes many forms. For a new parent, it might mean a part-time work schedule. For a person with a mobility disability, it might mean telecommuting due to lack of accessible transportation. For a person with a chronic illness, it might mean an adapted schedule to manage medical appointments or medication administration. Regardless of the reason why, research shows that strategies such as telework and flextime contribute greatly to increased productivity—for all employees, including employees with disabilities.

While workplace flexibility is often associated with when and where employees work, it also covers flexibility of task. That can mean redefining or customizing an individual’s job description to capitalize on their strengths so that they can best assist you in addressing your business needs. Again, this is a practice that can benefit all employees.

Return-to-Work / Stay-at-Work Strategies

When an unexpected injury or disability prevents an experienced, valued employee from working temporarily, employers may face difficult choices. Most want to do their best to support employees, and the reality is that training new workers costs time and money. Fortunately, employers can use a number of strategies to help valued employees stay at work or return to work following the onset of illness or disability. Often, just a few simple modifications to an employee’s work environment, duties or schedule can facilitate their remaining a valuable member of the team. What’s more, in many instances, work itself can play an important role in the recovery process—benefiting employee and employer for years to come.

Veteran Targeting

Across the nation, businesses of all sizes and in all industries are increasingly finding that military veterans—including wounded warriors—are a ready source of qualified candidates with the ability to get the job done. Veterans are known to be committed, team-oriented employees with transferable skills, real-world experience and the ability to adapt. So it is no surprise that many proactively recruit transitioning service members and veterans. Of course, some veterans may have service-connected disabilities, which may or may not be apparent, and there are a number of resources that small businesses can use to promote their success once on the job.

Disability Inclusion Training

Disability inclusion training is a step employers of all sizes can take to promote a disability-friendly workplace culture. What’s more, it can assist in strengthening employees’ abilities to serve customers or clients with disabilities, an important market segment. Examples include general training for all employees on disability etiquette and training for supervisors on workplace accommodations. The forum for such training may be simple, such as brown-bag lunches, to more sophisticated, such as online modules or formal curricula. Regardless, all convey a commitment to an inclusive workplace—and help employees understand their responsibilities in fulfilling it.


Clearly, a disability-friendly workplace is an accessible workplace. Today, most businesses understand the importance of physical accessibility, such as wheelchair ramps and accessible restrooms. But not all may understand the need to also build a “technology-accessible” workplace, where information and communication technology is accessible to all employees, and/or compatible with certain assistive technology devices. After all, accessibility should extend not only to a business’s physical structure, but also to its workplace technology products, website and online job application process. The key is to ensure doors are open, whether literally or virtually.

Transportation Considerations

Accessible and affordable transportation is a critical employment support, without which many people—both with and without disabilities—would not be able to work. By implementing job-related transit benefits and services, businesses both large and small can play an important role in advancing support for alternative transportation options and open doors to employment for a wider segment of their communities, including people with disabilities. What’s more, they can realize bottom line benefits through cost savings and an improved public image in an increasingly “green” society.

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