Employees with disabilities are an asset.

Jay Ruderman: Profiting From Leadership Leadership (n) — the action of leading a group of people or an organization.

Congratulations to the 10 inaugural winners of the Ruderman “Best in Business Award.” I commend you for your leadership in demonstrating how society must function: Everyone can and should be included. You have shown that what others think is impossible is possible, what is perceived as being costly is in reality not and you have proved that the cost of not being inclusive is too high a price to pay.

Over the last two-and-a-half years, the U.S. economy has improved and the unemployment rate has dropped drastically: from 7.9 percent in January 2013 to 5.4 percent this past April. Millions of new jobs are being created and providing economic security and prosperity for those joining the workforce. Only one group has yet to benefit from this growth: people with disabilities.

They are the largest minority among us and the one minority most of us will join at some point in our lives. The U.S. government states that 20 percent of the population has some form of disability — roughly 60 million of us. The most alarming statistic about the disability community is this: 80 percent of working age adults with a disability are not employed!

Think about that for a second: In a global economy, with competition for every business dollar fierce, we as a society have relegated millions of people to their homes, rather than welcoming them into our offices and stores. How many hours of productivity and billions of dollars in potential income are lost because employers are afraid of the “high costs” or are only willing to employ those who are “like them?”

The fact is that people with disabilities overwhelmingly want to join the workforce and they bring with them skills and experience that other workers do not possess. They are confronted on a daily basis with difficulties and challenges that require being creative, adaptive and resilient. They are able to consider out-of-the-box solutions to problems and think on their feet. They are an asset to employers.

Recent studies have shown that people with disabilities show higher levels of dedication to their jobs and their employers. They are rated as average or above average in performance, quality of work, flexibility and attendance. Finally, employers report increased retention of employees with disabilities.

Employers may think employing a person with a disability comes with a high price tag (it does not) but the upside cannot be ignored: People with disabilities are loyal workers and able to get the job done effectively. An employer’s dream.

Jay Ruderman: Profiting From Leadership On the flip side, the benefits of employment for people with disabilities are numerous: being in a social setting and interacting with others, as opposed to seclusion at home; a steady income, rather than subsisting on government stipends; a boost to self-worth and the ability to break barriers and shatter stigmas by performing to the highest workplace standards. Including people with disabilities in the workforce will boost our economy and create a more just society.

The “Best in Business” winners are leaders who understand that a competitive edge can be gained by employing the best people available. Whether a small bookstore like [words] or large conglomerates like Wegmans and Tim Hortons, their owners and managers have proven that everyone can be employed and revenue does not suffer. These businesses can serve as a model not only for other businesses but also for our schools, camps, religious institutions and community centers. Their inclusionary practices send the message that everyone is welcome.

Our foundation is proud to have partnered with The Jewish Week Media Group on this campaign. Thank you to everyone across North America who nominated a business and highlighted its inclusive employment practices.

The 10 inaugural winners have shown what true leaders are made of. My hope is for the rest of the business community to follow suit. If they do, we will all profit.

Jay Ruderman is president of the Ruderman Family Foundation.

Follow him on Twitter @JayRuderman