For a long time, those of us dealing with disability employment issues have realized that individuals with a disability can add a valuable perspective to corporate efforts in the mainstream business world.
That message has had a difficult time getting public attention, but that may be changing.
We can now more confidently state this finding: Employees with disabilities are more likely to bring drive, focus and innovation to the workplace than their non-disabled counterparts.
Consider the following three contemporary authors who have recently brought the “advantages” of disability employment to the mainstream media.
First, in “The Triple Package: What Really Determines Success” (2014), Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld discuss the reasons behind personal achievement.
Successful people, they say, tend to feel simultaneously inadequate and superior. They:
- Believe they are, in some ways, exceptional.
- Are insecure about their worth or place in society – that they’re not “good enough.”
- Resist the temptation to give up instead of persevering in the face of difficult circumstances.
They may appear to have a chip on their shoulders because they have a need to prove themselves.
For those of us with a disability, for instance, we may have a personal need to prove to others that we are the “exception” to commonly held beliefs within our society about people with disabilities in general.
That inadequate/superior package tends to generate personal drive in “overachieving” individuals with a disability – the need to prove oneself by sacrificing present gratification in pursuit of future attainment.
Second, Geoff Colvin sums up the power of deliberate practice with a purpose in his book, “Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else” (2010). He writes:
"...The most important effect of practice in great performers is that it takes them beyond -- or, more precisely, around -- the limitations most of us think of as critical."
He pinpoints exactly why it makes good business sense to hire people with disabilities who have developed the motivation to work hard at precisely the things they need to improve so they can contribute to a company’s bottom line.
Colvin cites research that indicates what we think of as “innate talent” is more accurately termed “long-term, sustained practice at what really counts” driven by a passion to reach a goal. In other words, it’s all about self-discipline.
Third, in “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants” (2013), Malcolm Gladwell offers a new interpretation of what it means to live well with a disability.
His main point: What is innovative, beautiful and important in the world arises from what looks like suffering and adversity.
In other words, being an underdog can change people. “It can open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what otherwise may seem unthinkable,” Gladwell writes.
Gladwell even promotes the idea of a “desirable difficulty,” such as dyslexia, a learning disability that causes much frustration for students as they learn how to read but, at the same time, forces them to compensate for that barrier by developing better listening and problem-solving skills – by being innovative.
With the release of these three books, I’ve also noticed a flurry of stories in the mainstream media about how individuals with a disability are finding they have “advantages” over their non-disabled counter-parts, in some circumstances, precisely because of their disabilities.
In a March, 2014, The Wall Street Journal, for instance, ran a feature about how people with autism spectrum disorder tend to pay greater attention to detail than the average employee. That makes them well suited as software testers, technical writers and supply chain managers, according to Jose Velasco, who is launching an initiative at SAP AG in Dublin, Ireland, to hire individuals with autism.
In June 2014, Fast Company published an article, “What People Don’t Understand about Hiring Someone with a Physical Disability,” by Justin Farley who points out:
“When considering a job candidate that is living with a physical disability, remember that you are also hiring a huge asset to the company. Typing speed matters when you are looking for a typist or filling a data input position, but if the skill set calls for some creativity, he or she can often offer an entirely new perspective on the things that able-bodied employees may take for granted.
“People living with a disability are experts at overcoming obstacles, and it will show in their dedication to their work.
“This perspective and long-practiced ability to adapt to everyday tasks can inspire new ideas and prove that there is a solution or alternative for most situations, if you think about it in a different way.”
I encourage today’s hiring managers to keep these considerations in mind as they make hiring decisions. Hiring people with disabilities who can show they’ll bring drive, focus and innovation to their workplaces and will, in the long run, boost corporate productivity (and the careers of those who hire them).
As jobseekers with a disability, we have a challenge: to think creatively about what attributes we have acquired due to the roadblocks we’ve encountered and learned to work around and step over – attributes such as persistence, ingenuity and preciseness which are highly valued in today’s workplace.
They are personal strengths those of us with disabilities often take for granted but should no longer ignore as we seek meaningful work.
Copyright © 2014. Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC. All rights reserved.
Jim Hasse, Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF), (www.jimhasse.com) has compiled and edited the recommendations of HR experts and the personal observations of both jobseekers and hiring managers into Perfectly Able: How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities (www.perfectlyable.com/), a comprehensive disability recruitment guidebook for hiring managers published by AMACOM (September 2010), the publishing arm of the American Management Association. He’s the founder of www.cerebral-palsy-career-builders.com, a comprehensive career coaching guide for parents of youngsters with cerebral palsy, and owner of Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC, which develops win-win direct mail fundraisers for champions of disability employment.