ACA blog

ACA Spells Employment Opportunity for the Disabled

When it comes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there are many sides to debate, opinions to be considered and, love it or hate it, changes to prepare for. But one group that's likely to see a more positive and productive future after certain ACA provisions go into effect in 2014 are working-age people with disabilities. Employers who embrace this change put themselves in an excellent position to tap into an underrepresented talent segment eager for opportunity.

Several aspects of ACA benefit those with existing disabilities, but one of the primary benefits is that it opens the door to enter the workforce by enabling the disabled to qualify for private health insurance. Some may question why disabled individuals would opt to spend a portion of their income on insurance as opposed to the no-cost public option they are guaranteed. The simple answer is that those with disabilities who receive Social Security Income (SSI) and qualify for Medicaid have their earning potential severely curtailed. This leaves this cohort with limited options—working part-time or in low-wage jobs in order to maintain health coverage—a prime contributor to poverty among the disabled population. Far from milking the system, this group has been almost completely barred by circumstance from the dignity of gainful employment due to their inability to secure coverage by most private providers.

The ACA’s elimination of the barrier of pre-existing conditions as a qualification for private health coverage enables those with disabilities to participate in the mainstream workforce without sacrificing quality medical care. Other ACA provisions abolishing annual/lifetime caps, rescission of insurance policies, non-renewability and higher premium cost for those with pre-existing conditions are just as important. These changes—plus other national and state initiatives supporting equal education and employment opportunities—mean that those with disabilities will no longer have their abilities and talents relegated to the sidelines.

For employers, this means that an already underutilized talent pool is about to become exponentially richer. And in diversity and inclusion circles, it's well known that like attracts like. Becoming an employer of choice for people with disabilities now—and creating a reliable acquisition pipeline—has the potential to pay off big in the immediate future.

Let's make this perfectly clear: This is not about compliance or even corporate social responsibility—it's about capturing highly motivated and engaged talent. According to studies from the U.S. Department of Labor's Job Accommodations Network, "Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact," DePaul University's "Exploring the Bottom Line: A Study of the Costs and Benefits of Workers with Disabilities," and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's "Leading Practices on Disability Inclusion," all that's required to gain a one-up in this burgeoning talent market is an open mind, an inclusive culture and possibly a few very worth-it accommodations.

What's to gain? How about loyalty, reliability, longer tenures, greater diversity, increased engagement and improved productivity (all benefits attributed to hiring workers with disabilities)?

Many prominent i4cp member companies (e.g. 3M, AT&T, Qualcomm) already embrace this talent segment. If your organization hasn't jumped on board with a specialized talent acquisition program for people with disabilities, what's holding you back?

(Note: i4cp, in partnership with Best Buddies International, Project SEARCH and several other organizations with programs aimed at employing those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are producing a study on IDD employment that will be fielded later this year. If your organization has a success story you are willing to share, please tell us about it below or contact me at

Eric Davis
Eric received his master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Marshall University in 1996. He has had 20+ years of workforce experience in a variety of fields. Before coming to i4cp, he worked as a laboratory technician for DuPont, a conference planner for Marshall University, the public relations manager for the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Technical Manufacturing, and a graphic designer for COX Communications.