Over 15 years ago, I coined the phrase, "Paychecks not Pity." I did not realize at the time how widely this would become known and how often it would be repeated in the coming years. This phrase has become a mantra of the disability community and for a good reason—it is true.
Since the Final Rule on Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was issued by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), many federal contractors in America have hiring managers experiencing trepidation as they establish plans to employ people with disabilties. One of the greatest fears is not being able to terminate an employee with a disability if they are not performing well. Many hiring managers still believe the Americans with Disabilities Act forces them to keep an employee regardless of performance issues.
The truth is that people with disabilities want to be treated equally in the workplace with a no pity attitude. People with disabilties want to work and want the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to be promoted; not pitied.
Many hiring managers are not aware they already have employees with hidden disabilities working at the company and performing at a high level; these employees may be afraid to disclose for fear of being seen differently or singled out by the company. As with any other group of people, there will be employees who excel in their role and those who do not meet performance standards. The reality is that if hiring managers select a person with a disability who is a poor performer, the process is the same as it would be for any other employee. Placing the employee with a disability on a performance improvement plan or other similar standard process used for all employees gives that person the opportunity to understand how they need to improve to become a productive member of the team.
When companies or agencies hire people with disabilities, it is all about the business productivity, not about charity. If people with disabilities are held to different standards, there will never be increased hiring and employment for people with disabilities. The perception of lowered expectations will impact both the team and the person with a disability negatively. People with disabilities want to be true members of the workforce; true contributors to the overall success of the company. It only hurts the effort to increase workforce representation for people with disabilities when employers measure the performance of employees with disabilities at different levels than other team members.
At Bender Consulting Services, we have a message for our employees, "Be at work, every day, early, with a smile on your face." If you do this, you will outperform over 50% of the employees without disabilities at the company or agency with whom you are hired. Our message to our employees is simple—you will perform and be held to the same standards of performance as other employees, with no exceptions.
As companies plan a strategy to attract and retain employees with disabilities, this message must be reiterated and understood or there will be great resistance by your employees. The news you should spread throughout your organization is simple—People with disabilities want "paychecks not pity.”
–Joyce Bender, President and CEO, Bender Consulting