Want an employee who is a natural problem solver? Hire someone with a Disability

Dark convoluted maze with cartoon person standing outside of the entrance

Employers should be seeking out employees with disabilities, not avoiding them.

Why are problem solving skills desirable in business?

The ability to troubleshoot or solve problems is really a collection of a number of other skills including:

  • Decision Making: To solve a problem, one needs to be able to make (or recommend) a decision.
  • Creativity. Problems are usually solved either intuitively or systematically. Both require creativity to think of a solution set from which the winning idea is chosen.
  • Research: Solving problems almost always requires some type of research ranging in scale from a google search or “water cooler” conversation all the way up to a formal research project.
  • Collaboration: Some problems can be solved by a single individual, but most require collaborations with other individuals either on your team or on cross-functional teams.
  • EQ: When assessing solutions, assessing the impact the problem and/or solution has on the problem’s stakeholders is important. This requires some level of emotional intelligence.
  • Risk Management: Solving problems inherently includes the need to perform risk management — both the risk of solving (as well as not solving the problem, which is also a solution or sorts) or the risk of one solution’s impact over another.

Soft skills versus Hard skills

  • The ability to use a screen reader or knowledge of how to make HTML or Swift accessible are “hard skills”. Hard skills can be more easily acquired, because they can often be learned through some type of training program or even self-taught.
  • Problem solving is considered a “soft skill”. Soft skills are much more difficult to learn. They require a substantial amount of practice involving trial and error to perfect. Because soft skills are linked to one’s personality and character, some people may never be able to acquire certain soft skills.

How does having a disability help an individual in the business setting?

There are many things inherent to a disability, especially a long-term one, that help a person with a disability develop soft skills that make them better employees.

1. When you have a disability, life is full of obstacles

For a person with a disability, life is chock-full of obstacles that need to be gotten around. This is the most basic form of problem solving. Can’t talk on the phone? Gotta use a relay service. Have an anaphylactic allergy? Have your Epi-pen and wipes on hand at all times. Have dyslexia? Learn how to tweak the browser to get the letter, word, line spacing and your favorite font installed that works best for your decoding skills.

Having to constantly deal with the obstacles largely created by society also contributes to creating a resilient personality with gritpersistence and determination. People with disabilities tend to pick away at problems until a solution is found. Giving up at the first obstacle means people with disabilities would achieve very little since obstacles are a way of life for us. It took me five years to complete my MBA rather than the normal three needed for part-time studies because I was forced to take time off for four surgeries in the middle of the program. I could have dropped out, but I didn’t.

2. Preparation is a key to existence for people with disabilities

People with disabilities are frequently the most over-prepared people you will ever meet, especially when their disability can be life-threatening.

  • Diabetics who travel need to bring all kinds of medication and equipment with them to stay alive away from the comforts of home, as do people who use CPAP.
  • My CGMS notifies my husband if my blood sugar goes too low and I don’t respond to the alarm.
  • I never book a speaking engagement at a conference unless I check about access to the stage from my wheelchair.

The need to prepare for just about any event without wanting to ask for help means that to be a successful person with a disability, you have to think of everything that could possibly go wrong and have a contingency plan for it. And this “need to prepare” doesn’t remain isolated to the disability component of our lives, our need to continually manage risk with respect to our disabilities crosses over to how we conduct business.

3. Complicated healthcare needs are a maze that one needs to learn to negotiate

  • In the US, dealing with being denied healthcare is how I got my start in the legal world. This helped me develop some lethal negotiating skills as well as the ability to advocate for both myself and my deaf daughter.
  • Research is part of every medical condition I have — am I on the right doses of the right medication? What is the likelihood of complications of a given treatment? I spend a lot of time researching my own solutions.
  • The need to frequently visit health care providers for multiple conditions has also helped me develop superior time management skills. I’ve sent literally thousands of email messages and even done conference calls from doctors’ waiting rooms.

4. People with disabilities have to make difficult decisions frequently

People with disabilities make really important decisions that can drastically impact their lives. Ten times a day (3650 times a year, or about 65,000 times since my diagnosis) I make a decision regarding insulin dosages that could literally kill me if I get it wrong. There is a high level of risk management skills inherent with these decisions, and I must be getting it right since I am still breathing. When you are faced with issues like this on a frequent basis, decisions about how to divide up a bonus pool or which person to hire (or let go) don’t seem too drastic by comparison. When a person with a disability is in a decision making role, typically they don’t angst over hard decisions and difficult conversations, they just get stuff done done and move forward.

5. Other business advantages to employing people with disabilities

In addition to problem solving skills, there are many other advantages to employing people with disabilities.

  • People with disabilities are extremely loyal to their employers in many industries with lower turnover and absentee rates than people without disabilities.
  • As an essential component to a well-functioning Diversity and Inclusion program, companies that are diversity champions have more shareholder value and improved profits and ROI over companies that don’t prioritize people with disabilities.
  • The average cost for an accommodation for an employee with a disability is under $500
  • When the unemployment market is tight (as it is as of this writing), people with disabilities are more available.

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