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OPINION | Why companies should hire disabled workers

I OFTEN think back to the time when  I was waiting in the checkout line at mainland grocery store, and an elderly disabled man walked up to the end of the counter and started bagging my groceries for me. My initial reaction was to protest that I could do it because I didn’t want to trouble him.

However, I stopped myself after realizing that this was his job, and he was more than capable of fulfilling the task that he had been hired for. This experience affected me in such a way that I stopped to consider that this store had given this man a wonderful opportunity that may have seemed an impossibility before.

The Honorable Steve Bartlett, current Chairman of RespectAbility, who co-authored the Americans with Disabilities Act when he was in Congress, is quoted as saying: “Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life. People with disabilities deserve the opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence, just like anyone else.” And, here at OVR, we wholeheartedly agree.

So, what are some of the realized advantages? For starters, hiring people with disabilities gives any company a significant competitive advantage. It creates a more diverse workplace, which is highly attractive in this day and age. In addition, customers are more likely to trust you when they see that you are prioritizing the greater good over just the bottom line. I found myself much more likely to shop at this grocery store as opposed to its competitors based on the fact that this store seemed more willing to provide opportunities for people who may not otherwise have it.

Any business that clearly demonstrates its willingness to provide opportunities for marginalized groups is one where I would want to spend my money. If you had a disabled family member, or friend, who wanted to earn their own money — wouldn’t you want them to have the option?

Many companies complain about the difficulty of hiring quality employees. Companies that have opened their applications to those who have disabilities have found an entirely fresh pool of talent whole complement their workforce. To illustrate, disabled workers have proven to be more reliable and punctual, thereby increasing cost-effectiveness, while bringing many other positive qualities that employers can often be hard-pressed to find. It can also contribute to a more positive work environment overall. Not to mention, at OVR, it is our vision that individuals with disabilities are employed in competitive and integrated work settings, are empowered to make qualified decisions and informed choices, and are compensated fairly.

Another added bonus is that providing jobs for disabled persons can bring various tax benefits. To illustrate, the IRS offers a maximum tax credit range between $1,200 to $9,600 depending on the employee and length of employment. Moreover, the government often subsidizes costs incurred for improving disabled access, such as installing ramps and elevators.

Furthermore, there is a work opportunity credit that a business can apply for, which also helps to reduce costs. The objective is to achieve integrated employment — hiring workers with and without disabilities.

Not only does hiring more people with disabilities benefit your business, it also improves the overall quality of life for a typically disadvantaged population. While this benefit may be secondary, the significance of its impact should not be overlooked. It provides them with a stable income and a sense of security as well as boosts their self-confidence. In fact, it allows disabled individuals to belong to and have a greater sense of community, which has been a challenge in the past. They are just as capable as any other employee!

If you are hesitant to hire employees with disabilities, OVR offers a broad range of relevant resources to employers including disability employment training around:

  • • Disability awareness
  • • Sensitivity
  • • Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • • Assistive technology assessments
  • • Information and referral to community programs
  • • Work experience training
  • • Manpower services through OJT

According to the CNMI Department of Commerce 2015 Statistical Yearbook and the 2010 Census only 37.5 percent of the CNMI’s 1,753 individuals with disabilities were employed.

But there are many companies who already have successful placements such as Ace Hardware, Joeten Enterprises, Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation, the Department of Finance, Hyatt Regency, the Office of Indigenous Affairs, Pacific Islands Club, and the list goes on. Will your organization be the next placement on this highly distinguished list?

As you can now see, there are many advantages that organizations can obtain by simply adding people with disabilities to their workforce. I hope that more companies will work with us to help 1,097 people with disabilities find consistent employment here in our beautiful CNMI.

The writer is director of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.