Dive In and Employ Workers With Special Needs or Disabilities

While looking for new business subjects to review, I spied an unique book.  A quick perusal of the pages informed me of a group of workers who are more likely to stay with an employer long-term, consistently exceed productivity expectations, and are innovative because they’re accustomed to adapting to situations.  So I bought it.

Wouldn’t you like to have such employees? If so, then look no further than workers with disabilities and special needs.

Dive In: Springboard Into the Profitability, Productivity, and Potential of the Special Needs Workforce is a solid book on hiring, retaining and working with disabled employees.  The authors, Nadine Vogel, a corporate consultant, and Dive In bookCindy Brown, an award-winning writer and consultant, speak from personal experience as they explain  the contribution of this particular group to a diverse work force. Vogel has two daughters with special needs, while Brown was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.  Their research and their experience makes this book worth the read if you are considering employing someone with special needs or disabilities.

Small Book Has Big Benefits for Employees With Disabilities

The advice in Dive In comes in a compact 130 pages, but you would be hard pressed to find a more informative guide tailored for the busy business owner.  Dive In explores the advantages that a special needs work force offers a company, such as low employee turnover and a “halo marketing” effect with customers.

“A national survey reported that 92 percent of American consumers view companies that hire people with disabilities more favorably than those that do not….And don’t forget that by hiring the special needs work force, you are also marketing to them….The U.S. Census reports that people with disabilities and their network (family and friends) represent $1 trillion in discretionary spending.”

The authors maintain the swimming theme throughout the book as Dive In explores the challenges of and solutions for accommodating a special needs work force.   Vogel and Brown wisely apply supporting material that challenges typical misperceptions that accommodating special needs is complex and expensive.

“In a 2006 survey conducted by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a service of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, 46 percent of the employers surveyed reported that the accommodations needed by employees and job applicants with disabilities cost absolutely nothing…Many would-be employers cite the cost of accommodations as a barrier to employing people with disabilities.”

Vogel and Brown also suggest establishing a Reasonable Accommodation Committee (RAC) to consider accommodation requests.  That may appear over-elaborate for a small company, but the authors convey the benefits of cost management and improved personnel morale from having a central decision-making source.

Learn How to Address Misunderstandings and Open a Dialogue

Dive In delves into workplace perceptions that can impede honest discussion regarding accommodation needs.  Although companies with 15 or more employees must provide reasonable accommodation by law, some special needs employees feel as though requesting an accommodation makes them a layoff target:

“It may be obvious that accommodation decisions should never be based on the current economic situation, but…equally as important is the perception that requests are considered in a fair and equitable manner. By centralizing your reasonable accommodation funding (and taking it out of the managers’ hands), you can help to counterbalance any fear that your employee may have.”

Quotes from corporate officers, such as senior level professionals at Starbucks, McDonald’s and Walgreens,  provide a range of thought, from hiring the best people regardless of background to understanding the value diversity has beyond a dollar.

Recommendations throughout the book have a broad context to cover situations with different needs, whether physical or psychological.  An example from an Ernst & Young executive shows how to reframe questions to keep particular needs in perspective while covering the possibilities in an emergency:

“ We don’t ask ‘Do you have a disability?’ but ‘Would you need help if there was an emergency?’ says Ms. Golden of Ernst & Young.  “This way we include people who might be claustrophobic, people with smoke-induced asthma, and women in their last month of pregnancy. They all self-register, saying that they would need help.”

Asides in Chapter 3 called “Please Do” and “Please Don’t” contain splendid reminders about behavior.  Other topics include differences between affinity groups and support groups, considerations of employees with special needs family members, and health insurance guidance for employees seeking therapies, home health care and medical equipment.

Dive In ends with a directory of additional government and nonprofit resources that can answer more specific workplace questions and concerns.

An Honest Guide to Developing Best-in-Class Practices

I liked that this book spoke to growing businesses that are beginning to hire employees as well as those that have been hiring for years.  Dive In answers the “what ifs” well and makes the consideration of special needs employees simple and straightforward. Regardless of company size, your firm will have a terrific resource for basic training and for beginning the associated dialogue about employee behavior.

Dive In breaks through the misconceptions about special needs employees (and those caring for special needs family members) to show best-in-class formation of healthy business relationships.  Give it a read, and see how your business will prosper from a positive environment and increased productivity through the best care for all employees.


Pierre DeBois Pierre Debois is Associate Book Editor for Small Business Trends. He is the Founder of Zimana, a consultancy providing strategic analysis to small and medium sized businesses that rely on web analytics data. A Gary, Indiana native, Pierre is currently based in Brooklyn. He blogs about marketing, finance, social media, and analytics at Zimana blog.

4 Reactions
  1. The comment about low employee turnover and the marketing “halo effect” reminded me of a bakery my wife and I visited during our vacation at Virginia Beach. Sugar Plum Bakery’s name is heard all over that area so we went in to learn more. They hire many special needs employees and have a great program of support for their employees. Their investment in special needs employees has benefited the workers, community, and the bakery. They had a great story.

  2. I will keep Sugar Plum in mind for a few folks who I know travel to Virginia Beach, and you have made me curious about it. Thanks for sharing that experience, Mike. Really appreciate it.

  3. I am currently researching for a proposal I am writing to incorporate a specific program that interviews, hires, adapts job duties, and trains special needs individuals. I was so excited to see this book and ordered it on the spot. I can’t wait to get and pick the “book brain” for ideas and concepts to making this come to fruition and putting a real life sort of feel to my proposal…

    Jodie Burt