Debunking the top myths of hiring people with intellectual or developmental disabilities

Older woman introduces herself with a smile as two employees stand and greet her.

As U.S. job openings soar to a record of 8.1 million jobs1, a record number of small businesses — 44 %— say they couldn’t fill jobs in April.2 However, there is a vast untapped talent pool within the Intellectual or Developmental Disability (IDD) community. In addition to being a ready, willing and able workforce, people with IDDs offer employers a unique set of benefits that can help transform any organization — from the bottom line to the culture.

The many benefits of employing those with IDDs was the topic of discussion in the recent episode of the Voya Just Right Advantage® podcast, Continuing the Conversation. During the episode, podcast host Portia Scott has a candid conversation with Laurel Rossi, co-founder of Creative Spirit — a non-profit 501c(3) organization devoted to matching individuals with IDDs with fair wage jobs. In the podcast, Laurel discusses the work she and the Creative Spirit team are doing to make a difference within the special needs and broader community. She shares one heart-warming success story about a very special candidate.

"The reality of hiring candidates with IDDs are far different than what many employers may think when they first approach us. In one case, we worked with young man who studied computer science at Temple University. He had all of the right grades, credentials, and a Master’s degree. We knew he would be the perfect fit for a job in an organization where he could work on coding and development. We were able to pair him with an employer and, after three months on the job, he indicated his interest in working on AI—even if it meant quitting his current position. We recommended he reach out to his manager and explain his aspirations instead. He was promoted three months later. He received a 60% pay raise and he was running AI within his department."

Listen to the entire podcast and read on for more insight on some of the most common myths associated with hiring people with IDDs.

Myth: There are few qualified candidates with IDDs available

One common misconception about hiring people with IDDs is that there are few suitable candidates available for any given role. In fact, quite the opposite is true: this community can provide you with a vast talent pool looking for work. Laurel further clarifies by explaining that “…85% of neurodiverse individuals are unemployed.”3 And this unemployment rate doesn’t align with the success and value of those with IDDs in the workforce.

Companies that hire people with IDDs describe them as engaged, dependable, having great attendance, motivated, high attention to work quality and high productivity — all attributes of the model employee. Almost 75% of employers report a positive experience, and nearly 33% report the experience exceeded their expectations.4 In the case of the young man working in tech, the results speak for themselves in terms of skills and ambition.

Myth: Employees with IDDs need significant additional training

If you’re like many employers, you may be interested in including more people with IDDs in your workforce. However, the myths associated with increased training costs may make you reluctant. And you’re not alone. According to a recent study, 47% of employers had concerns that employees with IDDs would need special supervision and training. But this is hardly the case. In reality, only 37% of employers of people with IDDs state that training needs are a challenge.4

In many instances, non-profit 501c(3) agencies like Creative Spirit collaborate with businesses that want to increase the number of employees with IDDs within their workforce. In addition to developing a robust pipeline of individuals with IDDs, Creative Spirit offers corporate diversity training as well as the skills training, coaching and mentoring necessary to ensure the long-term success of those with disabilities in fair-wage integrated jobs. Rossi says that when you can find the right fit for both a job and a candidate, the need for additional training goes down.

At the same time, Creative Spirit helps businesses navigate their Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) efforts to find candidates with IDDs. Rossi explains, "It took us about two years to pilot and learn what worked in our coaching model. But we are super, super excited about what we're doing with it."

Myth: Hiring employees with IDDs doesn’t offer benefits to the organization

To the contrary, reseach shows that companies who embrace best practices for employing and supporting more persons with disabilities in their workforce have outperformed their peers:

  • 28% higher revenue,
  • Double the net income and
  • 30% higher economic profit margins than the other companies in the Disability Equality Index.5

In addition to the bottom line, hiring employees with IDDs can have a broader impact on your organization’s culture and operations. Specifically, you can foster a more diverse and inclusive workforce by focusing on a sector of DEI that is most often overlooked — neurodiversity. Rossi continues, "We have had phenomenal feedback about what hiring somebody with a disability means in terms of being in the culture [of a company], sitting shoulder to shoulder with their peers in the workplace."

Learn more about organizational diversity in 5 Compelling reasons diversity is good for business and organizations.

Hiring employees with IDDs is good for business

The benefits that come from hiring individuals with IDDs are vast, making it essential for businesses to expand their efforts to include them in a more diverse workforce. Although myths persist about how and when to bring more talent from the IDD community, there is an abundance of evidence that demonstrates the unlimited upside of doing so—especially as the race for talent intensifies. Plus, creating a more diverse and inclusive work environment is not just good for business, it’s also the right thing to do.


Supporting people in underrepresented communities is an important part of Voya’s vision and mission to help all Americans have the quality of life they seek in retirement. The Continuing the Conversation podcast is brought to you by the Voya Just Right Advantage™ program. This first-of-its-kind program is aimed at supporting greater retirement planning opportunities for minority, women, veteran, disability and LGBTQ-owned businesses — along with nonprofit organizations that serve them. In addition, Voya Cares is designed to make a positive difference in the lives of people with disabilities and special needs from birth through aging, by providing advocacy, resources and solutions.

Related Items

  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary May 11, 2021
  2. National Federation of Small Businesses, Small Business Optimism Index, April 2021
  3. Neurodiversity in The Global Workplace
  4. Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp). (n.d.). Employing People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Ohio Employment First.
  5. Getting to Equal 2018: The Disability Inclusion Advantage. A research report produced jointly by Accenture, AADP and Disability:IN,
Portia Scott and Portia Scott Media LLC., are not affiliated with the Voya family of companies. Portia Scott Media LLC., has received compensation from Voya for participation in educational programming, supporting Voya's Just Right Advantage program.
Laurel Rossi and Creative Spirit are not affiliated with the Voya family of companies.
Products and services offered through the Voya® family of companies.
Neither Voya® nor its affiliated companies or representatives provide tax or legal advice. Please consult a tax adviser or attorney before making a tax-related investment/insurance decision.