Looking for quality candidates to increase the ranks of your firm’s tech talent? Before you complain about the slim pickings in today’s IT labor market, be sure you are not overlooking a talented subset of IT workers. In his recent article “Hire IT pros with disabilities to fill your worker shortage,” Timothy Huckabee outlined the benefits of hiring disabled IT workers. Judging by comments from a recent TechRepublic discussion, many recruiters ignore the abundance of disabled IT workers looking for jobs. Here’s what members are saying about discrimination against the disabled in IT.

Equal opportunity is a farce
When Robert Cooper was terribly injured in a traffic accident, he had 23 years of IT experience, along with advanced degrees in electronics that included teaching certifications. During his rehabilitation, Cooper boosted his existing credentials by earning an MCSE and MCP+I. Despite his qualifications, Cooper believes that back problems and an inability to use his left leg are obstacles that no employer can seem to look past.

“After submitting over 200 job applications and resumes and attending interviews in which it became obvious that I could handle any aspect of the position…I have received some of the lamest [rejection] excuses I have ever experienced.”

While Cooper finds it hard to land a job because of his injuries, another TechRepublic member claims to have lost jobs due to discrimination.

“I’ve been fired because an emergency operation during the Christmas holiday ‘would cripple the company’s aggressive project plan’ and ‘they just don’t want to deal with the whole disabled thing afterwards.’”

Isn’t IT handicapped accessible?
Basic logic implies that someone with a physical disability may not be able to perform labor-intensive jobs that require specific mobility. But aren’t there many IT duties that could accommodate someone with limited mobility, sight, or hearing? Enterprise architect Jim Huggy works with a visually impaired employee who, among others, was contracted from an employment organization.

“All are super employees—hardworking, extremely knowledgeable, and willing to learn new technologies.”

Steve Russo, an IT manager, once worked with Bender Consulting Services, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based firm that specializes in contracting work for disabled IT professionals. He believes that the abilities of many disabled IT workers far outweigh their physical limitations.

“In fact, there is one individual working for this company who is nationally recognized as one of the top Lotus Notes programmers, and he is blind.”

The accommodating workplace
TechRepublic member Joab firmly believes that disabled IT professionals are just as capable as anyone else, with one caveat: The work environment must be conducive and not hinder their abilities.

For Huggy’s company, hiring visually impaired workers necessitated a few modifications throughout the office.

“We had some minor expenses for the machine and workspace, but it was well worth the investment. Some [new hires who are disabled] do Java Server Page, Java, Enterprise Java Beans, JavaScript, Notes, HTML, PeopleSoft, and support. And the output is above average.”

Huggy also believes that, in addition to the appropriate working accommodations, normal benefits, and equal pay rates extended to all employees, some disabled employees may deserve extra sick time.

Attitude is the barrier
While many people tout legislation and allocating funds into programs as possible remedies for discrimination against the disabled, many people believe that a change in attitude is the only way to get more disabled techs into the workplace. AlvinB, disabled due to a childhood disease, believes that people’s perceptions are the greatest hurdle.

“Barriers exist in the minds of many people who could hire disabled workers. People need to realize that disability is no more a measure of a man or woman’s potential than the color of a car indicates the gas mileage.”

But, as Huggy suggests, changing people’s minds is a slow process that won’t occur overnight.

“I am saying no matter what your age, physical or mental disability, employers need to look at knowledge and skills, and not anything else.”

Where do we begin?

Do you have suggestions for bringing overlooked disabled professionals into the workplace? How can IT pros spread awareness to correct the problem? Join the discussion and share your thoughts.