As you’re looking to recruit, hire, and retain employees with disabilities, you may want to consider enlisting the help of a disability employment consultant.

Disability employment consultants go above and beyond what your traditional HR team offers to provide expertise on every aspect of creating a more inclusive workplace. They provide specialized knowledge about where you can find and recruit employees with disabilities, information on accommodation needs and ADA compliance, and insight into what your competition is doing in this space. They also have a greater understanding of the needs of individuals with disabilities, and can help you set up training programs for management and other employees.

Here’s what you need to know about working with a disability employment consultant:

1. Determine your starting point

If you’re building a disability inclusion program, you’ll want to start with an assessment of where your organization’s efforts currently stand, and where you want them to be. You can do your own assessments by utilizing nationally recognized tools like Cornell University’s BenchmarkABILITY or the Disability Equality Index.

But a disability consultant can also help with this process – they can assist with an up-front assessment of policies, programs and procedures and assess how they compare with best practices. Because disability employment consultants are a neutral third party, they can look objectively at existing programs and spot gaps that can be addressed to strengthen them.

Then, once you have a plan, a consultant can help you set concrete goals and benchmarks for your company to meet as the program ramps up.

2. Find the right consultant

Once you’ve determined that a disability employment consultant can help your organization, find and hire the right one. There are many different types of disability employment consultants, from larger agencies to independent contractors – including some connected with law or accounting firms, who can bring legal and financial expertise along with their disability training. Many companies find potential consultants through organizations like the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) or through referrals from colleagues at other companies.

A number of factors go into what would work best for your organization – including the scale of the project, the different locations involved, and what kind of program you’re looking to build. When you’re reviewing consultant candidates, make sure that you vet consultants to ensure they have the kind of expertise you seek. Ask for (and check!) references, and make sure you have a full understanding their experience, as well as their cost (which can vary greatly – some charge by the hour, others on a project basis).

3. Determine how the consultant will work with your team

For many companies, the consultant works independently, with regular meetings to go over progress and next steps. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to go – sometimes, the consultant is embedded in the company, so they’re available to provide their expertise as the project continues.

Which type is right for you depends on your organization, its needs and its goals. Some companies want an expert on hand, day in and day out, to assist with strategy and implementation. Others want a “kick start” for the first 6 to 18 months and then want to take over the program internally so they “own” it.

4. Make sure your in-house staff is ready to do the work

You’ll want to be sure that there’s a person or team in place in-house to work closely with the consultant during the program ramp up – and to manage the program after the consultant leaves. (Remember, your program won’t end when your consultant leaves!) Most consultants work on a project basis, and generally work with companies for at least a year.

The in-house team needs at least one senior management staffer with decision-making power, to avoid slowdowns seeking approval for even the smallest decisions. That will help ensure that you won’t lose your momentum – and that you’re building a strong program to attract a more inclusive workforce.

And regardless of whether or not you enlist the help of a consultant or not, you should seriously consider other service providers that can help you with this process. The next page will give you some ideas on how to find the providers that are right for your company.

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