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Hiring and Supporting Employees with Developmental Disabilities

By May 13, 2024No Comments
Developmentally Disabled Employee in a blue shirt and peers in an article about Developmental Disability hiring and support

The recent attention paid to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in workplaces has created a new push for employers to support employees from marginalized groups. Many organizations have taken time to reassess the way they support their team, including employees with developmental disabilities (DD). Despite significant gains in employment of the developmentally disabled, DD people are still unemployed at double the rate of nondisabled people, which speaks to the need for a significant shift in hiring, support, and awareness of DD employees’ needs. 13% of the US population has some form of disability, which means under- or unemployment in this group has major ramifications for the country as a whole.

Fortunately, the push for inclusivity and the tireless work of disability activists has created a wealth of information and resources that you can draw from to help your hiring process and organizational practices become more inclusive for DD applicants. Prioritizing these changes can help your organization grow and thrive, as they can expand your hiring pool, help with employee retention, and give your team a personal and organizational investment in inclusion that they feel proud of. Here are some ways to create an organization that is supportive of DD employees:

Research the issues and share your findings

It’s important that you and your team have a well-rounded understanding of developmental disability hiring, as quite often well-intentioned but under-informed attempts to improve inclusivity can have the opposite effect. Disability hiring resources have been created by both public and private organizations, and are often free, such as the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) program. The National Institutes of Health also has resources around the specific needs and challenges faced by people with some of the more common disabilities. The Campaign for Disability Employment (CDE) can provide informational resources around key considerations, benefits, and best practices for hiring DD employees.

As you undertake this research, it’s critical that you document your findings and make these resources available to your team to look over. You could also consider presentations, consultations, or organizational partnerships with disability advocacy groups in order to help your team learn more about these issues and empower them to be more inclusive. Making sure your team is bought-in and that they understand the importance of DD inclusion will make your workplace much more accommodating and welcoming to disabled employees.

Learn about and adopt inclusive hiring practices

Developmentally Disabled Employee and peer in an article about Developmental Disability hiring and support Support for DD employees starts before they even join your team. You can work with your HR team members and hiring managers to learn more about inclusive hiring best practices. These include things like adding an equal opportunity hiring statement in all job listings, ensuring you are using hiring tools that are compatible with all screen sizes, providing descriptive text under any images, and other such considerations. You should also ensure that anyone conducting an interview has been adequately trained to accommodate DD applicants, and they are respectful of their needs and schedule. This training should also emphasize that DD applicants should be treated with the same respect and consideration as anyone else, and that things like overly-effusive praise or other well-intentioned treatment can “smother” DD applicants and discourage them. Hiring staff should also know that, while directly asking about an applicant’s disability status in an interview is illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), they should also have opportunities to share any accessibility accommodations they may need.

You should also work with your HR providers and team to address any potential issues with healthcare coverage, employee assistance programs, disability insurance, or deferred payment like retirement, pensions, and 401K. Because DD employees may have different needs than your plans currently accommodate for, making sure their needs are provided for allows them to work without worry and helps with retention as well. Above all, it is important that you show any DD team members that you are willing to listen and work to assist them with their specific needs, as each employee will have different needs, different financial considerations, and different backgrounds.

Understand that one size doesn’t fit all

Inclusivity can sometimes require you to step back from the routines and “business as usual” at your organization in order to reassess whether the processes you have built are truly accommodating to everyone. Things that may not be apparent to you, such as office layout and lighting, noise levels, and scheduling can make it more difficult for your DD team members to do their best work. As above, research can help you tremendously, as DD employees may feel uncomfortable or unwilling to ask for things they need, particularly if they are new. Pushing yourself to have a more flexible mindset when it comes to these kinds of changes and not to assume that one particular way is the best way for everyone to work will allow your DD employees to thrive.

It is also important to establish productive communication and feedback mechanisms, giving DD employees the chance to speak up if they feel comfortable and to do so without fear of judgment or criticism. You can also gather information and feedback anonymously, conducting an internal survey and giving your team members a chance to voice concerns or issues without attaching their name to it. It’s important that you create an atmosphere of comfort and support without “putting someone on a pedestal” or singling out DD employees. As above, this behavior can be both well-intentioned and counter-productive, undermining an employee’s confidence and productivity.


For more than 40 years, 501(c) Services has been a leader in offering solutions for unemployment costs, claims management, and HR support to nonprofit organizations. Two of our most popular programs are the 501(c) Agencies Trust and 501(c) HR Services. We understand the importance of compliance and accuracy and are committed to providing our clients with customized plans that fit their needs.

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The information contained in this article is not a substitute for legal advice or counsel and has been pulled from multiple sources.

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