Human Resources Strategy: How Massachusetts Became a Leader in Finding and Serving Employees with Disabilities

October 26, 2018

Most Human Resources professionals acknowledge the importance of making sure that applicants and potential employees with disabilities aren’t discriminated against. However, the statistics are clear: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 18.7 percent of people who are disabled have a job, compared to 65.7 percent of the non-disabled population. People who are disabled are also over twice as likely as the general population to file for unemployment. They are also more likely to remain on unemployment until it’s exhausted, which seems to indicate that disabled employees have a difficult time finding another job.

Unfortunately, it’s not unusual for many employers to assume that someone with a disability is simply unable to work or that they may be undesirable as an employee. According to the Brookings Institute, roughly 40 percent of people with disabilities are able to work and are actively seeking employment. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was meant to address the gap between the ability to work and employment opportunities, but there is still a long way to go.

Helping People with Disabilities find Jobs

There are job resources for people with disabilities. For example, the job board Monster.com offers many tips on finding a job when you have a disability. Indeed.com and ZipRecruiter encourage their clients to actively seek out potential employees with disabilities. There are also several job boards created for people with disabilities, such as Disability Job Exchange. Some government agencies, such as the Social Security Administration, actively seek out people with disabilities to work for them. State governments have also taken steps to help people with disabilities find employment. For instance, California and Illinois have both used tax breaks and other considerations to encourage companies in their states to hire people with disabilities and to make sure that their state governments’ human resources administrations are prepared to reach out to the disabled community. When it comes to state government, however, Massachusetts has taken the lead when it comes to employing people with disabilities.

Massachusetts and Disabled Worker Equality

In 2007, Governor Deval Patrick signed an executive order to add people with disabilities to the state’s equal employment opportunity and affirmative action policies. Because of this executive order, the state developed a set of plans that includes over 25 goals to specifically increase the number of people with disabilities in the state government. These efforts go beyond using HR recruiting agencies to find employees with disabilities. It includes recruiting at colleges and through social service agencies devoted to assisting people with disabilities, as well as reaching out to the disabled community to find potential employees. Massachusetts has also developed HR strategies designed to strengthen retention of employees with disabilities. The goal in this was to make the state more accommodating and accepting of differently abled individuals.

Beginning in 2011, Massachusetts increased its outreach to employees with disabilities by updating facilities in state offices to be more accessible, as well as purchasing and updating accessible technology to assist employees with impaired vision or hearing. In addition to efforts on the state level, Massachusetts also created a fund to help county and civic governments update their facilities and technology for greater accessibility.

In 2011, Massachusetts also launched a self-identification project encouraging employees with invisible disabilities to be open about their situations. The goal of this project was to encourage people with disabilities to reach out to Human Resources to set up reasonable accommodation plans if necessary and to increase their visibility in the workplace and in the state government. The self-identification project also helped the state plan and target improvements to better meet the needs of local offices.

Additionally, Massachusetts has developed new in-service training to update employees, supervisors, and managers to make sure that the ADA and state guidelines for disability access and equality are being met. The state also creates and distributes a quarterly newsletter called Dialogue which provides news and updates specifically on the state’s efforts to reach out to and serve their employees with disabilities.

Putting it Together

The state of Massachusetts has gone to great lengths to show that they value their employees with disabilities, creating a model for other states to follow. The state has also created programs such as tax incentives to encourage private employers to seek out and employ individuals with disabilities. In 2007, Governor Patrick declared his intention to make Massachusetts a place that is more accepting of and accessible to people with disabilities. The state has made great progress and is now hoping to increase their efforts among private employers.

For more information on how Commonwealth Payroll & HR can work with you on your strategic human resources planning, call us today at 877-245-1159

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