Hiring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities: What to know

The United States is facing a historic labor shortage. Many employers are looking for new ways to attract and retain talent. Yet even in this tight labor market, there’s a group that’s chronically underemployed and ready to work: people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

An estimated 6.2 million people in the United States have intellectual and developmental disabilities. And only 36 percent are in paid employment. With so many companies looking for qualified hires, this talent pool offers a valuable opportunity.

What are intellectual and developmental disabilities?

What does it mean if someone has intellectual and developmental disabilities, also known as IDD?

Intellectual disability is defined by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities as “significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior” that begin before age 18.

Intellectual disabilities can be caused by physical or genetic factors. Some intellectual disabilities — such as those related to Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, and fragile X syndrome — are present before birth. Others can start later in childhood, like a disability caused by a stroke or an injury.

Developmental disabilities are a broad group of conditions that begin before birth or during childhood and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime.

According to the National Institutes of Health, “‘IDD’ is the term often used to describe situations in which intellectual disability and other disabilities are present.”

As with any disability, intellectual and developmental disabilities vary from person to person. It’s not always obvious that someone has IDD. 

A motivated and high-performing talent pool

Sometimes employers underestimate the abilities of potential hires with IDD. That’s why it’s important to have an open mind when evaluating candidates.

“There’s still a lot of misinformation. People with IDD are constantly underestimated,” says disability inclusion expert Debra Ruh. The CEO of Ruh Global IMPACT has worked with companies such as Verizon, IBM, and Accenture.

“Sometimes employers think that people with IDD are going to be out more often, that they’re not going to be able to grasp the training. This is actually not true,” adds Ruh, who has a daughter with Down syndrome. “They’re usually the ones that get to work sooner than their peers. They’re very loyal employees.” 

In fact, in an Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) report, over 85 percent of employers rated workers with IDD as dependable, motivated, and engaged. And three-quarters or more rated them as “good to very good” on most performance factors.

Successful companies know that hiring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is a good way to find qualified talent. According to the i4cp report, high-performing organizations were 37 percent more likely than low-performing ones to hire people with IDD because they were good talent matches for open positions.

Strengthen your business by hiring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities

Hiring people with IDD shows a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

“Today’s job seekers are looking to see how inclusive an organization is,” says Kevin Bradley, senior advisor for global inclusion and diversity for Zebra Technologies. “And customers will notice.”

When consumers know about a company’s disability inclusion initiative, brand loyalty goes up. Studies have found that Americans are more willing to support companies they see as “purpose-driven.”

By building your company’s outreach to candidates with IDD, you can reach untapped talent, show your commitment to inclusion, and bring diverse new perspectives to your team.

This article is Part 1 of a three-part series on hiring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD):


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