Why Hire People with Disabilities?

Why Hire People with Disabilities?

October marks the 70th anniversary of National Disability Employment Awareness Month - a time to acknowledge the substantial contributions made by workers with disabilities. It's also a time to reflect on our attitudes as a society and find ways to expand employment opportunities for this talented population – the largest minority in the U.S.

According to the 2015 Kessler Foundation Employment and Disability Survey, 69 percent of Americans with disabilities are working, actively preparing for employment, searching for jobs, or seeking more hours. What does this mean? Clearly, it means that work is important to the majority of people with disabilities.

Survey respondents also shared their experiences with barriers to finding and maintaining employment.  While many are succeeding in overcoming barriers, the gap in the employment rate between this group and their peers without disabilities remains unacceptably high. We can all do much more to diversify the workplace by addressing barriers and creating opportunities.

Why hire people with disabilities? For individuals, the economy, and companies, it’s win-win-win. People with disabilities gain acceptance, independence, and financial security – a win. Their contributions mean less reliance on public benefits and greater productivity – a win for the economy. Innovative ideas generated by workers with disabilities fuel the development of new products and services that better fulfill the needs of all people. That win is compounded when companies tap the estimated $175 billion of annual buying power of individuals with disabilities and their families!

Showing consumers that you are socially responsible helps build brand loyalty and boost the bottom line. Companies like Nike, Nordstrom, Microsoft, and Dove have already received a lot of positive publicity for recognizing citizens with disabilities as valued members of society.

Businesses—big or small—often want to build a more inclusive workforce, but don’t know where to start. Nonprofits that serve people with disabilities may want to start businesses that expand opportunities and benefit the community, but lack the needed funds. That’s where Kessler Foundation comes in.

Since 2005, the Foundation has awarded more than $32 million to expand job training and employment initiatives across the nation for people with disabilities. Funding for public-private partnerships has enabled companies, such as PepsiCo and OfficeMax, to identify qualified candidates and improve their hiring, training, and retention practices. The ultimate goal—to have employees with disabilities at every level in their organizations.

Our targeted funding has helped nonprofits, such as the Center for Head Injury Services in St. Louis, and Hudson Community Enterprises in Jersey City, launch social enterprises in food service and document management, where hundreds of employees with disabilities learn job skills, earn market wages, and work side-by-side with able-bodied employees.

Now, during this National Disability Employment Awareness Month, I call upon my fellow CEOs to make a concerted effort to diversify their workplaces by hiring individuals with disabilities. I also call upon nonprofit organizations to join us in prioritizing employment initiatives in their philanthropic giving.

Let’s all share in the successes of a truly inclusive workforce.


Rodger DeRose is President and CEO of Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability. Kessler Foundation is a global leader in rehabilitation research that seeks to improve cognition, mobility and long-term outcomes, including employment, for people with neurological disabilities caused by diseases and injuries of the brain and spinal cord. Additionally, Kessler Foundation leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities.