Myths PWD.qxt 10/2/06 3:24 PM Page 3
rated average or better in job performance, compared with 95 percent
for employees without disabilities.
Myth 4: Employees with disabilities
always need help. Taking the time to
assist them in getting acclimated to
their work environment will hinder
your other employees, grinding pro-
ductivity to a halt.
Fact: Many people with disabilities
are independent and capable of giv-
ing help as well as receiving it.
Myth 5: Employees with disabilities
will have transportation problems get-
ting to work. They’ll arrive late—when
they arrive at all.
Fact: People with disabilities often
are capable of supplying their own
modes of transportation to work
just like any other employee.
Myth 6: Considerable expense is
necessary to accommodate employees with disabilities.
Fact: Following up an ongoing study
by the U.S. Department of Labor’s
Job Accommodation Network (JAN),
the University of Iowa’s Law, Health
Policy, and Disability Center
(LHPDC) surveyed 778 employers
that contacted JAN between January
2004 and April 2005, representing a
range of sectors. According to respondents, most workers with disabilities
require no special accommodations
and the cost for those that do is usually manageable. Forty-two percent
said the accommodation resulted in a
one-time median cost of $600.
“Many of the myths surrounding
employees with disabilities result
from a lack of communication,”
says Helm. “Just ask questions.
People feel they should know everything about how to interact and
deal with a person in a particular
situation, and that’s just not the case
if you’re not exposed to it. There are
no hard and fast rules.” DI
34 | DiversityInc October 2006
Shedding the Myths
Now 36 years old, Jim was diagnosed in 2002 with schizo-affective disorder. The two major mood disorders of the illness are unipolar
depression and bipolar or manic-depressive illness. As a result, Jim and
others who have this illness may feel constantly sad and fatigued or
are indecisive and unable to concentrate when in a depressed state.
Conversely, in a manic state, that same person may be compulsively
talkative or prone to cheerfulness, which can quickly morph into irritability,
paranoia and rage.
“I had episodes where I could become delusional … completely out of
touch with reality. It was disabling and I would ;nd myself out of commission for three or four months at a time,” recalls Jim.
Jim has been on a steady regimen of mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics for years. But he didn’t let his disability derail him from pursuing
his educational objectives. In May, he received his doctoral degree in chemical engineering from the University of Tennessee. He’s currently interviewing for research positions as he continues on the post-doctoral track.
Jim still fears he’ll be forced to constantly battle the stereotypes
held against those with mental disabilities. He also has to combat his
own trepidation about being forthcoming about his illness. Because of
the debilitating nature of his schizoaffective disorder, Jim has several large gaps on his résumé, which he’s reluctant to explain for fear of
“Anything relating to schizophrenia has a negative connotation to it.
And I’m concerned how that may come across to people who don’t really
understand it,” says Jim. “Since it’s not a visible disability, I look ;ne.
So someone might ask, ‘What’s the problem? I don’t see a problem.’ But if
I get ill, I might have to disappear for three months.” Jim has been
fortunate that his professors have understood his illness, but as he fears,
potential employers may be less accepting.
Jim understands how those who have limited contact with people
with disabilities might be wary or cautious at ;rst. His advice: Get over it.
“I know the myth is this person can’t perform or this person needs
special treatment because he has a disability. They’ll think they have to
have three meetings a week with this person and won’t be able to get
their own work done,” says Jim. “But once I understand what I’m
doing, then just leave me alone and let me do my job.”
Once again it comes back to open communication, says Sarah Helm,
associate coordinator for career services at the University of Tennessee
and coordinator of the university’s Disability Careers Of;ce.
“Communication and increased exposure is the only way to overcome
that ignorance,” she says. “Employers are afraid since they’ve never been
around someone hard of hearing, they’ll just avoid hiring that person
[regardless of whether he or she is quali;ed]. They think it’s extra time and
extra work for them. But meet with people and ;nd out what their individual needs are. When they do that, they’re showing they truly want to
diversify their workplace.”