How to Hire Workers with Disabilities or Special Needs

Employees with special needs assembles products in a manufacturing facility.

As we all know, even though the unemployment rate nationwide is slowly increasing (meaning a larger pool of potential workers), manufacturers are still struggling to find employees.  This leads to the need to explore previously untapped sources for workers.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that, for 2023, the unemployment rate for people with a disability was 7.2%, a much higher rate than that of 3.5% for the same timeframe among people without a disability.

But, how do you know if a person with special needs or a disability is a good fit for your open positions?  How do you connect with sources of workers for this pool of talent?  What considerations do you need to make for workers with special needs?  Here are some answers to these questions, featuring input from a U.S. Chamber of Commerce article, along with my additional perspective as someone who has spent my professional life working in and with manufacturing environments.

How do you know if a person with a disability or special needs is a good fit for your open positions?

The best way to determine this is to review the skills needed for your open positions.  Those will special needs or disabilities work best with repetitive tasks and those that require focus.  Tasks like packaging are good fits for those with disabilities, but the job search website Indeed also includes the following in its list of openings for manufacturing jobs that those with special needs can apply for:  Production Assembly Line Worker, Production Associate, Assembly Line Tech, Quality Associate and Assembler.

How do you connect with disabled/special needs workers?

 According to the US Chamber of Commerce, a best practice for hiring workers with disabilities is to work with recruiters and national/local organizations.  These organizations include:

  • The Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities (WRP), which connects companies to federal agencies nationwide to obtain qualified job candidates for positions in a variety of fields.
  • Local or national non-profits such as Easter Seals or local workshops for people with disabilities. Many of these entities have programs to help train people in certain skills in house.  One such program in the St Louis area is the Boone Center Industries (BCI) Skills Center, which provides vocational training in partnership with local businesses.
  • Many community rehabilitation providers (CRPs) can connect your company to local programs and help tailor recruitment efforts to those with disabilities.

What considerations do you need to make for workers with disabilities or special needs?

 First and foremost, you need to follow the requirements outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) when hiring these workers.  It is also a good practice to review job descriptions to make sure you are not inadvertently disqualifying a person from applying.  For example, many manufacturers put the ability to lift above a certain weight on all their job descriptions.  However, many of them have put lift tables and other technology on their floor to alleviate ergonomic injuries, so the lifting requirements may be out of date and may preclude someone with disabilities from applying when they can indeed do the job.

You may also need to provide workplace accommodations such as providing forms and written documents in accessible formats; providing flexible or remote work opportunities; and specialized equipment or software.  Many states have grants to help cover the cost of providing these accommodations so be sure to check with your state to see if they do.

Finally, while not required, it is important to create an inclusive culture at your company if you are going to commit to hiring workers with special needs and if you want to support your current workforce as they encounter challenges.  Some best practices in this area include:

  • Investing in universal, or inclusive, workplace design. Some elements of this are height-adjustable desks, door handles that don’t require a grip and developing closed-captioned videos for the hearing impaired.
  • Practicing inclusive language, which promotes diversity and inclusivity in the work environment. Examples of inclusive language can be obtain from the United Nations and the National Center on Disability and JournalismDisability:In also offers a Disability Etiquette guide.
  • Establishing support systems. Each company will likely have a different way to approach this, but maybe each person with special needs is assigned a mentor who can help them overcome barriers to career success.

Overall, the biggest thing to remember is that those with disabilities (or, as some refer to them, differing abilities) or special needs is that they, while often facing challenges most of us can’t fathom, have the resilience and skills to be productive, valued members of any manufacturing team.  Their focus and dedication to the job will be unequaled, which are qualities many manufacturers appreciate and celebrate.

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