So obvious, why so difficult?

This weekend I read an article about an IT company called Unicus in Norway that has hired several employees with Asperger’s Syndrome.  It is a profitable business with an employee pool of unique talents (the managing director mentioned one employee that learned Japanese on his own, another can read 2000 words per minute). These are talents that most companies wouldn’t even bring in for an interview. Unicus has calculated that they save the Norwegian government 1 375 000 euros for just ONE  of their employees, as they are now working and not on welfare.

About two years ago I saw a TV programme here in France about a factory that hired only people with disabilities. Also a profitable business. I’m sure there are more companies like this around Europe, but it sure isn’t common.

Feedback from the employees in both examples above is that they are very happy to be able to contribute to society and not feel like a burden. They earn money, they socialize and feel valued. Quite the opposite of the feelings of staying home, on welfare. Feedback from the employers is that they get extremely loyal employees that never miss a day of work. And special talents, as mentioned in the first paragraph.  I have read and heard about same kind of feedback in « regular » companies that have a small staffing percentage of people with disabilities. Win-win.

Some years back I worked in a company that had a person born blind answering incoming calls. No one could hear that she was blind, as she had all the equipment she needed to transfer calls and read absent messages. She was the best first impression of the company you can imagine, friendly and helpful – and always there. Those people are not easy to find. The investment cost of getting the equipment she needed is not even a percent of the cost saved in hiring and re-hiring for 30 years. People with sight impairments is a group that very often get isolated, which wasn’t the case for her. The job allowed her the money to have more freedom to do what she wanted, and a social life. Win-win.

So, why is it so hard for employers to see the win-win by hiring people with physical and mental disabilities? Lack  of information? Lack of will? Fear for additional work? Fear of having “funny situations” at work? I believe it is the first; lack of information. Many businesses don’t know the investment costs (how much and what is covered by the government), they don’t know how to advertise jobs externally that doesn’t put off people with disabilities, and they are not aware of the benefits of hiring people with disabilities.

What can create more win-win situations? At the top of my mind, I’d say three core actions; hire in someone to enlighten the management team(s), look at recruitment strategies and processes, focus on creating an inclusive work environment.

What do you think?

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