Better opportunities for people with disabilities

Berlin State Minister for Digital Affairs Dorothee Bär became clear when the Federal Government’s Disability Representative, Jürgen Dusel, handed over his recommendations for participation to the Federal Government at the end of last year. “We have to use digital change to open opportunities for people with disabilities to participate,” Bär said at the time.

The Institute of German Business (IW) has now examined the potential that lies dormant here in a study that is exclusively available to the Handelsblatt. Core result: Companies that already rely heavily on digital technologies are more likely to employ people with disabilities than companies unrelated to digitalization.

In mid-2019, the Cologne-based researchers inserted corresponding questions into their IW personnel panel – a representative online repeat survey among HR managers. In contrast to the official statistics on the employment of severely disabled people, which only takes into account companies with at least 20 employees, smaller companies were also recorded.

As the survey among 1,200 HR managers showed, a good 55 percent of companies have employed at least one person with a disability in the past five years – at the time of the survey it was only around 46 percent. The proportion increases not only with the size of the company.

The researchers have also determined that intensive use of digital technologies such as online sales platforms, cloud services, virtual reality glasses or the Internet of Things significantly increases the likelihood that a company will employ people with disabilities. However, a significant effect can only be observed when a company is already heavily digitized.

Support in everyday work

Around 30 percent of companies that have employed people with disabilities in the past five years also see digitalization as new opportunities for the employment of people with disabilities. On the one hand, this is about hiring additional workers with a handicap, on the other hand, it is about making work easier for people with disabilities who are already employed.

Mobile work devices such as notebooks and tablets, which enable people to work anywhere, or online communication services for the exchange of information in the team of HR managers are already seen as a great relief to make everyday work easier for people with disabilities. Every fifth company uses digital technologies to support people with disabilities in their everyday work.

The companies surveyed by the IW have employed people with a physical disability, as well as people with visual or hearing impairments, significantly more frequently than people with a learning, intellectual or psychological disability in the past five years. Only a good seven percent of those responsible for human resources stated that they also worked or worked for them with employees with mental disabilities.

This is striking in that the number of sick days caused by a mental illness and the number of severely disabled people with personality or behavioral disorders have risen sharply in recent years, write IW researchers Christoph Metzler, Anika Jansen and Andrea Kurtenacker. One explanation could be that external support measures are aimed more at people with physical disabilities than at employees with mental disabilities.

As a warning signal, the study authors consider that just under six out of ten companies that have experience with the employment of people with disabilities feel adequately informed about the design of workplaces suitable for the disabled and possible aids. Only 45 percent said they had sufficient information to recruit new employees with disabilities.

Employment boom also benefits people with disabilities

Overall, people with disabilities have also benefited from the employment boom in recent years. According to the Federal Employment Agency (BA), the employment rate of severely disabled people between the ages of 15 and 64 has increased from 41.6 percent in 2005 to 49 percent in 2017. However, it was still significantly below the rate in the population as a whole (78.2 percent).

Employers with at least 20 employees are legally obliged to employ severely disabled people in at least five percent of their jobs. Otherwise a compensation levy staggered according to the size of the company is due.

In 2017, the mandatory quota of 4.6 percent – 0.1 percentage points less than in the previous year – was not met. The share in the private sector was 4.1 percent, in the civil service 6.5 percent.

More: Every second employee of the tea manufacturer Shuyao is severely disabled. The founder Nicola Baumgartner shows how inclusion can work.