January 19, 2010, 7:36 PM — Q&A: Neil Jacobson
The founder and CEO of Abilicorp discusses the fit between IT and people with disabilities.
In what ways are people with disabilities superior employees? I would not say people with disabilities are superior employees. I would say that there are aspects of having a disability that result in many people with disabilities being great employees. In my experience -- and I have helped to place tens of thousands of people in jobs over the past several decades -- I would say that employees with disabilities stand out as being incredibly creative, persistent, hard-working and loyal. Many of us who have significant physical disabilities have to be creative and persistent for our own survival. Because we are often not able to do things the "normal" way, we are literally forced to be creative and perform tasks however we can, and we carry that creativity into problem-solving in the workplace. We have to be persistent and know there's always a way to accomplish a task. Having a disability is in itself hard work. I probably consume more energy getting dressed in the morning than most people do in their workout at the gym.
As far as loyalty goes, unfortunately most people with disabilities know how difficult it is to find a job, and they know a good thing when they get it. According to the National Organization on Disability, people with disabilities stay in jobs longer and have less absenteeism than the average worker. I stayed at Wells Fargo for 29 years.
What sorts of jobs are the disabled particularly well suited for in the IT realm? I dare not generalize. Undoubtedly, for every IT job, there are great people with disabilities well suited for it. For me, IT development was always my sweet spot. It is one of the few professions where there is always a way to give your client/customer exactly what they want. With IT development, you always know when you did well (it worked), and when you need to do better (it didn't work).
IT management is another area. Many people with disabilities are forced to be good managers in their daily lives -- we learn how to teach and manage others to get things done that we are not able to do for ourselves.