According to a 2018 Accenture report, companies ranked highly on the Disability Equality Index (DEI) have, on average, 28% higher revenue, 200% higher net income and 30% higher economic profit margins. The DEI, produced by Disability:IN and the American Association for People with Disabilities, measures criteria in areas such as culture and leadership, community engagement and support services, and employment — areas where learning leaders often play a key role.

Companies that hire individuals with disabilities experience other benefits, too, including the benefits of “neurodiversity,” the addition of unique skills and abilities to the workforce, and improved productivity and retention. “People with disabilities tend to be some of the most creative, innovative and, quite frankly, most loyal employees,” said David Casey, vice president of workforce strategies and chief diversity officer for CVS Health, in the Accenture report. “A person with a disability wakes up every day thinking about being innovative – that is a skill set. That ability to problem solve is innate to them. Our training programs quickly went from philanthropy to skill search.”

Fortunately, more and more companies are discovering the benefits of hiring individuals with disabilities, thanks to the tight labor market. In fact, according to the Boston Globe, many employers are looking to candidates they didn’t previously consider in order to fill open positions. In addition, according to a 2018 SourceAmerica report, “Shifts in societal sentiment and public policy have led to a new benchmark for employment outcomes for people with disabilities, and increased pressure on the public and private sectors to create inclusive workplaces.”

In the face of the evidence demonstrating the bottom-line benefits of inclusive employment, as well as the consumer and employee demand for inclusion, what can learning leaders do? Here are five tips.

1. Identify Skills Gaps

Just like in any hiring initiative, it’s important to start by identifying where your workforce has gaps. Then, instead of solely looking for traditional candidates, broaden your search to include people with disabilities, who can fill a variety of roles.

For example, Canon Solutions America and The Viscardi Center recently launched a program to train people with disabilities for administrative office jobs. “Providing entry-level job seekers with disabilities with relevant career-related skills can broaden opportunities that go beyond the stereotypical jobs that people with disabilities are often relegated to,” says John D. Kemp, president and CEO of The Viscardi Center, a nonprofit that serves children and adults with disabilities.

2. Provide Soft Skills Training

There’s a growing awareness across the training industry of the importance of soft skills training. Kemp says it’s especially critical to provide this training to individuals with disabilities so they “understand all aspects of how to be successful at work.” For example, the Canon/Viscardi program trains participants on “interpersonal, communication, and organizational skills; the best approaches to problem solving; tips for personal appearance; [and] job search techniques and resume and cover letter creation.” It also uses mock interviews to prepare them to apply for jobs, according to the press release.

Providing soft skills training is also important in light of the difficulties some people with disabilities may have with social skills. For example, individuals with autism often don’t make it through the interview process due to the traditional hiring model’s reliance on interpersonal skills.

3. Use Multimodal Learning

The Canon/Viscardi program is a five-week course consisting of classroom lecture and hands-on skills training. Such a blend of interactive instructor-led training (ILT) and hands-on training is ideal for learners with disabilities, says Grace K. Mora, senior manager of employee engagement and development for Canon’s enterprise managed services division.

For ILT, make sure the classroom follows Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines for such factors as wheelchair accessibility, space configuration and lighting, says Mora. Kemp adds, “It is also essential to ensure that the materials are formatted for all users and are fully accessible.”

4. Train the Training Team

Mora says that providing sensitivity training to the training team is important “to better understand the types of disabilities that exist, visible and not visible.” Then, instructional designers and trainers can develop and tailor content to meet individual employees’ needs. “The job role and physical requirements … of that job need to be considered as well when developing the program to maximize the learning experience and the employees’ success on the job.”

5. Work With Partners

“Identifying partners with similar visions, such as The Viscardi Center, allows us to strengthen our combined efforts for bringing diversity and inclusion in the workplace,” says Lisa Chung, director of talent acquisition, university relations and diversity for Canon. If you don’t have the expertise for recruiting, training and managing employees with disabilities in house, find a nonprofit or corporate partner that does.

“It grew into this mutually beneficial relationship,” says Kemp of The Viscardi Center’s collaboration with Canon, “where we have people who need jobs, and they need a training program.” In this way, working with organizations to hire and train employees with disabilities can truly be a win-win … win.

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