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Study Shows Hiring Professionals with Disabilities Increases Workplace Productivity

Researchers are continuing to find more reasons for why companies should commit to building a diverse and inclusive workforce. In addition to benefits such as increased profits, improved employee retention and morale which we’ve laid out in the past, a new study titled “Inclusive Manufacturing: The Impact of Disability Diversity on Productivity in a Work Integration Social Enterprisehas revealed that employing a diverse workforce that includes a number of disabled individuals can help manufacturing companies increase workforce productivity and improve production goals.

Currently, more than one-fifth of the U.S. workforce identifies as having a disability. To find out how successfully integrating individuals with a disability into the workforce impacts productivity, professors Sriram Narayanan and Ed Terris at Michigan State University conducted a study involving more than 13,000 workers at Peckham Inc., a clothing manufacturer and a nonprofit that provides job training opportunities for people with disabilities. The workers Narayanan and Terris followed were divided into 10 different disability categories:

  • Mental
  • Cognitive impairment/developmental
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Learning
  • Emotional/behavioral impairment
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Chemical dependence/substance abuse
  • Physical
  • Deaf or hard of hearing
  • Visual impairment

Narayanan and Terris defined productivity as the amount of time it took to produce one garment — the less time, the better. The researchers found that productivity within manufacturing teams increased significantly in proportion to the number of workers with disabilities within the teams

The researchers also learned that team productivity also grew when there was an even distribution of people across the disability spectrum present. Therefore, the most successful teams in the factory were disability-diverse and inclusive.

“Concerning evenly distributing individuals across the disability spectrum within a team, these likely improve fairness perceptions of task allocations in a group,” the researchers wrote in a blog post detailing their findings.

The researchers added that Peckham’s work as an organization also serves as a possible model for successful disability inclusion. The services the company offers to people with disabilities include career consultation and planning, employment training programs, employer services, youth services, residential services and employer services. Peckham works to match people within various roles with employers looking to fill similar positions and also provides ongoing support to both workers and employers.

The study suggests that “job carving,” or rearranging work tasks that lead to new opportunities to match individuals with jobs they will succeed at, is one of the primary keys to creating a thriving disability-inclusive workforce. Job carving requires specialized consultants, systematic approaches to workforce development, ongoing collaboration with individuals and constant trial and error. The researchers also found that placing people where they’re happy, able to collaborate and feel appreciated for their strengths inspires them to do better work — regardless of ability.

“People enjoy working, and they enjoy the company of others at work,” Terris told MSUToday. “Whether or not a person has a disability is not the driver. It is important that people are placed into jobs that fit their skillset and [that] they enjoy doing.”

In summarizing their research, Narayanan and Terris also drew connections to America’s aging workforce. As the U.S. population grows older, so too will the number of people who are living with disabilities. They said growth in workforce demographics makes it even more important to further increase inclusion and accommodations for people with disabilities.

In addition to job carving, other disability-inclusive workplace practices the researchers recommended include:

  • Implementing technical tools to help people with disabilities adapt to their work
  • Providing accommodations in scheduling that allow people to take more breaks at work or work-varying hours
  • Utilizing programmed instructions to help clarify processes

This study is just another example of the reality that being inclusive isn’t just morally advisable — it is financially beneficial too.

“Our key finding is that it pays to employ individuals across the disability spectrum from a productivity standpoint,” the researchers concluded.

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