How to Hire and Onboard Employees With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

By Serena Kappes
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Read Part 1 and Part 2 of our series on expanding your talent pool to include people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). You’ll learn what IDD is, why your company should have an IDD inclusion plan, and how to recruit and interview candidates.

You’re aware of the ways your business can benefit from hiring candidates with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). And you’ve got your recruitment plan down.

So how can you make sure the onboarding process goes smoothly? Here are some tips for employers looking to build a successful plan for bringing on employees with IDD.

Create a solid training plan—for everyone

Making sure your training program works for employees with IDD won’t just be useful for them. It can actually help any new starter.

By making your onboarding process fully accessible, it will benefit all candidates. But it definitely benefits people with disabilities,” says disability inclusion expert Debra Ruh.

For example, a company might add images to its training materials in addition to written instructions. Or it might offer a staff mentor to each new starter. Small changes like these could help employees with IDD—and everyone else as well. You can find a list of accommodation ideas for IDD and other disabilities at the Job Accommodation Network.

Walgreens is one company that’s invested in diversity inclusion for people with disabilities, and particularly people with IDD. 

The drug retail chain retooled their training methods to be more accessible. “Employees who didn’t have IDD were able to learn the material quicker and be more productive,” says Ruh. “That's some of the really amazing byproducts that we've seen come out of these efforts.”

And the training program helped the employees with IDD to thrive. A multi-year study found that Walgreens employees with disabilities were at least as productive as other employees, and sometimes more productive. They also had fewer safety incidents. Employee turnover for people with disabilities was half that of employees without disabilities.

Provide accommodations

Employers with 15 or more staff are required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.

The Job Accommodation Network has a list of suggested accommodations for employees with IDD. Some examples are:

  • Reading written information to employee if necessary
  • Allowing verbal responses instead of written responses
  • Using a voice-activated recorder to record verbal instructions

“There are people with intellectual disabilities that may not need any accommodation,” says Kevin Bradley, senior advisor for global inclusion and diversity for Zebra Technologies. “And there may be folks on the other end of the range that come in through a vocational rehabilitation partner and have a job coach for a short period of time—and everything in between.” 

Encourage communication

You may already have employees with intellectual or developmental disabilities and not know it. And those employees may not realize they can ask for the accommodations they need. Encouraging disclosure for people with disabilities can open up the conversation. 

At Wells Fargo, more than 10,000 team members have self-identified as having a disability. “We have a strong accessibility team that can support an individual from as early as the application process all the way through providing accommodations when an individual is at work,“ says Jose Garcia, senior vice president of national partnerships and programs for Wells Fargo. “It really makes us very proud.”

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Create growth opportunities

Make sure your employees with IDD have the chance to progress in their careers. 

Wells Fargo provides professional development opportunities for employees with disabilities and other diversity groups through their Diverse Leaders Program. “You focus on building a sense of community among the leaders who are participating, but you also focus on key components of ‘Lead yourself, lead the team, lead the business,’” says Garcia. 

Check in with your employees on a regular basis to understand where their interests lie. Offer mentorship and training opportunities.

Promote understanding 

Disability awareness training among managers and co-workers about people with IDD is important. That can include “having sessions for questions that people might normally be afraid to ask. [It] creates that safe space,” says Bradley. 

A disability-focused employee resource group can also include allies. That can lead to a more inclusive workplace for all employees.

Grow your inclusion program, and grow the benefits

Looking to expand your hiring pool? You can see excellent returns by building a strong recruiting and hiring process for people with IDD.

And studies show that the benefits go beyond access to untapped talent.

The Institute for Corporate Productivity reported that nearly three-quarters of employers surveyed said hiring workers with IDD was a positive experience. Almost a third of those said the experience had exceeded their expectations. And high-performing organizations were 37 percent more likely to hire people with IDD because they were good talent matches for open positions.

By hiring people with IDD, organizations gained dependable, motivated employees. And by building your company’s inclusion program, you can too.


This article is Part 3 of a three-part series on hiring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD):