Debunking Hiring Myths about People with Disabilities

Despite the fact that many people with disabilities want to work, employers can be reluctant to hire them due to untrue assumptions. However, not hiring someone based on hiring myths is against the law. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities and ensures that everyone has the same opportunities to participate in their communities.

Although the ADA was signed into law in 1990, negative assumptions or myths about people with disabilities are still prevalent. Here are 8 debunked myths about the ADA and hiring people with disabilities.

Myth #1: People with disabilities don’t work as hard as their counterparts.

Reality: Some employers believe people with disabilities might not be as productive as their counterparts without disabilities. However, many studies show this is not the case. For instance, one survey found that supervisors rated the work performance of employees with disabilities as the same, or better than, the performance of coworkers without disabilities. (See Leveling the Playing Field: Attracting, Engaging, and Advancing People with Disabilities)

Additionally, employees with disabilities tend to have lower turnover rates than their coworkers without disabilities (Kalargyrou, 2012). Because they generally stay in their jobs longer, there is less lost productivity related to hiring and onboarding new employees.

Myth #2: Interviewing a person with a disability is risky, because they can sue if they don’t get the job.

Reality: Many employers believe the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires them to hire unqualified people. This is untrue. People who are unqualified for a job cannot sue the company for refusing to hire them, even if they have a disability. Likewise, if a person’s disability makes it impossible to fulfill the duties of a position, the business is not obligated to offer him or her the position.

In general, people with disabilities are very familiar with their own limitations. It is rare that a job seeker with a disability pursues a job outside the scope of what he or she can do. If an interviewee seems unqualified for the position, the business is free to interview another candidate. However, it is important to give qualified applicants a chance.

Myth #3: Small businesses must accommodate people with disabilities or close.

Reality: Somehow, the ADA developed the reputation of being the enemy of small business. The prevailing myth is that small companies have to make costly changes to their facilities to accommodate employees with disabilities or be shut down by the federal government. The ADA, however, does not apply to businesses that employ fewer than 15 people. If a business is so small that it cannot feasibly afford to make accommodations, it is not legally required to do so.

Myth #4: Hiring people with disabilities is extremely costly.

Reality: The majority of people with disabilities will not require accommodations. For example, some employers might think hiring a person who is deaf requires purchasing expensive technology to communicate. With today’s digital technology, however, the accommodation can be as simple as texting the instructions to the deaf employee’s phone, which does not cost anything.

For those people who require accommodations, the average cost tends to be around $500. Employers can seek assistance from the Job Accommodation Network, a subsidiary of the Department of Labor for more information about workplace accommodations.

Employers can also apply for tax incentives when they hire people with disabilities such as the Work Opportunity Tax Credit.  These incentives may actually benefit a business’s bottom line.

Myth #5: You cannot discipline an employee with a disability. If you do, they’ll sue.

Reality: If a person with a disability misses a deadline or makes an error due to carelessness, they can be disciplined appropriately. Employers can correct an employee’s poor performance and can suspend or terminate them as they would other employees. Again, the ADA’s goal is equal treatment, not special treatment.

Myth #6: People with disabilities need constant assistance, which will slow productivity.

Reality: With the possible exception of people who are recently disabled, people with disabilities know how to function in the world. Many have been disabled since birth, which means they have spent their whole lives figuring out how to navigate the world. One of the saddest misconceptions is that people with disabilities are struggling through their lives, waiting for other people to help them. The reality is people with disabilities participate regularly in their communities—they play on sports teams, run errands, attend social functions, and most importantly, fulfill the requirements of their jobs.

Myth #7: People with disabilities are uneducated.

Reality: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that people with disabilities have access to education. Thanks to laws in this country that ensure equality, the majority of people with disabilities have a high school education. Many have college degrees, and some have doctorate, medical, or law degrees. In fact, some of the world’s most brilliant minds such as Mozart, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Stephan Hawking were disabled since birth or had physical limitations.

Myth #8: Employers have to hire the candidate with a disability even if another candidate is more qualified.

Reality: The myth that Affirmative Action hiring practices force companies to hire unqualified people ought to be put to bed. If a candidate has more experience and education and seems better suited for the job, then a business may hire that person over the candidate with a disability.

Remember, the ADA is not in the business of giving people with disabilities special treatment or creating federal hiring practices that favor this group. People with disabilities must seek education, build their resumes, and work hard like everyone else. It is not about special treatment; it’s about all workers having an equal chance at a good job and a good life.


Additional resources:

There are many businesses working to dispel these myths. For example, read Why Hire Disabled Workers? 4 Powerful (and Inclusive) Companies Answer by Sarah Blahovec to learn about four national companies (including Starbucks and AT&T) who know that hiring people with disabilities makes their businesses better. Employing People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD), a report by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, found that businesses that hire people with IDD for business reasons gain business benefits, which include gaining highly motivated employees, boosting a culture of inclusivity within their company, and improved customer satisfaction. Have you run up against some of these discriminatory myths while trying to find a job? Here are some resources that could help you:

RTC:Rural’s Advocacy Skill Building Toolkit

Advocacy is about getting your needs met, both on a personal and community level. If you can’t fulfill your wants or needs, then advocacy is the answer. This toolkit is designed to introduce youth with disabilities to advocacy, but has useful tools and resources for anyone interested in advocacy. Information and Technical Assistance on the Americans with Disabilities Act

A website with information for both individuals and businesses on the ADA’s regulations, design standards, technical assistance materials, and enforcement.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

“The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to discriminate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.”

Directory of Centers for Independent Living (CILs) and Associations

A Center for Independent Living is a consumer-controlled, community-based, cross disability nonprofit agency designed and operated within a local community by individuals with disabilities. They offer core services in the following areas: information and referrals; advocacy; independent living skills; peer counseling; transition; personal assistance services, and housing. This link will take you to a directory where you can find your local CIL.

National Disability Rights Network (NDRN): Protection & Advocacy for Individuals with Disabilities

NDRN works to improve the lives of people with disabilities by guarding against abuse; advocating for basic rights; and ensuring accountability in areas including education, employment, and transportation among many others.

I’m In To Hire

A group that promotes the benefits of hiring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and supports creating inclusive workplaces.