America’s Underutilized Workforce; The Intellectually Disabled


The numbers of intellectually disabled individuals vary by estimates to between one and a half percent of the population to as high as five percent of the population. Within this range, there are various different conditions and severities but one thing is virtually certain. One hundred percent is capable of performing employable tasks with a dedication and motivation, not to mention an enthusiasm, not always available in the general employment pool. This presents an employer with a superb opportunity to not only improve corporate fortunes but to provide a service to the community at large.

Quality Employment, Quality Results

On Maria Shriver’s Powered By Inspiration blog, writer Amy Wright lists five great reasons for hiring the intellectually disabled and disabled persons in general. (source: These are; People with IDD are capable, hard working, reliable, good for the business in terms of diversity, and are people who need a chance to succeed. At first, this might seem to be solely based on an altruistic position. However, according to a December, 2012 article in the Chicago Tribune, (Source: titled: “Don’t be afraid to hire people with disabilities”. Manager Deb Russell of Walgreen’s company diversity and inclusion department points out that turnover rates among employees with disabilities is 50 percent less than that of the non-disabled employees. In addition, both accuracy and productivity statistics show the same difference, meaning that the overall increase in production statistics is higher for disabled employees than non-disabled employees. This is occurring in other companies that have taken it upon themselves to tap into this unique labor pool. Companies like Walmart, Best Buy, AMC Theaters and others and each one showing excellent results.

Less Accommodation Concerns

One of the biggest concerns among business has been providing accommodation for the disabled employees, In the same Chicago Tribune article linked above, Manager Deb Russell was quoted as saying; “People think accommodations will be expensive and daunting, What we found, especially on the accommodations front, is that it’s minimal. Over the thousands of people we’ve had in the distribution centers, we’ve spent less than $50 per person. A lot of the time, all the accommodation they need is an open mind.” There is also assistance in accommodating disabled workers. Various programs exist on both the state and federal level to assist employers with accommodating the disabled, either via grants, loans and or technical expertise. In some situations, companies can be eligible for tax credits that would more than offset any costs for making accommodations. With all this in mind, there is little need for concern in the affordability or feasibility of making accommodations for disabled employees.

Taking the initiative and hiring intellectually disabled or disabled persons in general, is not just the opportunity to do something for the community. The basic position is illustrated clearly once again by a quote Manager Deb Russel in the Chicago Tribune article linked above. “What’s important to realize is that when Walgreen and other companies hire people with intellectual or other disabilities, they aren’t doing it as an act of charity. They’re doing it because the people they’re hiring are good employees who help the company make money. ” Altruistic intentions aside, intellectually disabled individuals want to work and have a degree of motivation and enthusiasm that is hard to be found in the general labor pool. This translates into a healthier overall employment situation for both the employee and the employer and a healthier bottom line in general.