When companies hire disabled employees, they stand to reap a myriad of benefits. These employees may be excellent problem-solvers who have above-average attendance and productivity records at work. To top it off, employers may be able to earn federal tax credits for bringing disabled workers on staff.

Not all employers recognize the potential benefits of hiring disabled workers, however.

“Unfortunately, too many companies worry that the benefits will be offset by the costs to accommodate those employees – not true, by the way,” said Sean Belanger, CEO of CSDVRS, the parent company of Stratus Video, which provides On-Demand Interpreting to hospitals and ZVRS video phone service for the deaf.

“At Stratus Video, 68 percent of our employees who don’t work as interpreters are deaf or hard of hearing,” Belanger continued. “All of our 250-plus contractors across the country are deaf, and three of our eight company vice presidents are deaf. We’ve grown to more than $50 million in revenue and we were recently named to the Inc. 5000 list of top Tampa-metro area businesses. Thanks in large part to our diverse workforce!”

Integrating Stratus Video’s hearing and non-hearing employees involved facilitating communication. They accomplished this important goal in the following ways:

  • In-house trainers teach the hearing employees American Sign Language.
  • Each employee has access to a video phone and video software so all can communicate both visually and  vocally.
  • The company’s human resources department found coverage for hearing aids and cochlear implants (which were not covered by insurance) to ease communication for hard-of-hearing employees.

Committed, Engaged Employees

Belanger explained that his deaf employees are committed, engaged and come up with solutions to problems based on insights unique to their experience. A U.S. Department of Education study supports that assessment. It found that disabled employees in general are average or above average in performance, quality and quantity of work, flexibility and attendance.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a disabled person is defined for work purposes as someone who is deaf or has serious difficulty hearing; is blind or has serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses; has serious difficulty concentrating, making decisions or doing errands alone because of a physical or mental condition; experiences serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs; or has difficulty dressing.

Tax incentives for employers may include the Work Opportunity Credit, the Disabled Access Credit and the Architectural Barrier Removal Credit. In addition, the Wounded Warrior Tax Credit offers incentives for hiring vets with service-connected disabilities. You can find out how much your company may qualify by using the Hire Gauge, a free tool at ThinkBeyondtheLabel.com.

Belanger, who was recently named CEO of the Year by the National Association of the Deaf, suggests thinking creatively when recruiting disabled employees. His company, for example, recruits from Rochester Institute of Technology’s Technical Institute for the Deaf and Gallaudet University for the Deaf. They also hire four deaf interns every summer.

So listen up: Hiring hearing-impaired or otherwise disabled employees might just benefit everyone – and lead to a more diverse, engaged work force.

Sean Belanger is chief executive officer of Clearwater, Fla.-based CSDVRS, an Inc. 5000 company and parent company of Stratus Video, of which he is also CEO. A graduate of Virginia Tech, he has 30 years of experience in the technology industry. He previously served as CEO of the Paradyne Networks and general manager of 3Coms’ network service provider division.