AVON, OHIO — Like most employers these days, Steven M. Began faces a major challenge in finding and keeping good workers. But unlike many of his corporate colleagues, Began has found an answer to the challenge by aggressively pursuing an often-overlooked category of workers: the disabled.
Began is president of Avon-based Polycase, an injection molder of plastic enclosures for electronics products. Of Polycase's 40 employees, about one-third have some type of disability, Began said. Relatively inexpensive accommodations in the workplace have helped disabled workers become productive, valuable employees, he said.
The commitment to hiring disabled employees began about 21/2 years ago when Polycase started to feel the effects of the labor crunch. Began then contacted a representative of the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission, who put him in touch with a pool of disabled workers eager to establish themselves in the workplace.
"[The disabled workers] are major contributors to the company," Began said. "If someone has a disability but a positive attitude, you work around the disability. The ORSC is the first place I look when I am expanding, or any time I have a job opening. The bottom line is finding people who contribute. My business has grown because of the quality of the people who work here."
Began said that contrary to the impression of some business owners, the cost of accommodations for disabled workers has been small, particularly in comparison with the productivity the workers have brought to the company.
For instance, he said the company made modest expenditures on a device to help a man in a wheelchair move from a sitting to a standing position so he could perform his job, and on a high-intensity assembly lamp for an employee who is legally blind.
Returning disabled people to work still is a major challenge. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission estimates that despite the robust economy, about 70 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed.
There are some signs of progress. In a survey last spring by the Society for Human Resource Management, 75 percent of 813 human resources executives said their companies had changed their recruiting, pre-employment screening, testing and orientation procedures since passage in 1990 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. More than half of the respondents said their employers have made accommodations such as installing large-screen computers for workers with poor eyesight.
Under the ADA, employers with 15 or more workers must provide "reasonable accommodations" to disabled workers and cannot discriminate against disabled job applicants.