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Disability Employment Statistics

According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report from August, 2014, 31.8% of non disabled persons do not participate in the labor force vs. an 80.2% non participation rate for persons with disabilities. The unemployment rate for disabled job seekers is also more than twice as high. The BLS reports a September 2014 unemployment rate of 12.3% for disabled job seekers vs. 5.5% for non-disabled job seekers. Two studies offer some insight into why so many persons with disabilities are not working and what businesses are doing to employ and accommodate workers with disabilities:


Why Adults With Disabilities Have Difficulty Finding Jobs

The Urban Institute used information from the Disability Supplement of the National Interview Survey (NHIS-D) to look at barriers to employment for adults with disabilities. Sixteen thousand persons with disabilities were asked about their disability, their work and their need for accommodation. The researchers used respondents` self-reports of specific activity limitations to define disability. By this definition, the researchers calculated that there were 11.3 million working-age adults (18 to 64) with disabilities of whom 37 percent were working.

The researchers separated the sample into two categories: "high likelihood" to work, defined as those for whom accommodations will enable work or who reported their disabilities were not work limiting, and "low likelihood," defined as those who reported they were retired from work or could not work even with accommodations.

Some of the key findings regarding the "high likelihood" group are outlined below:


Looking for Work:

More than half of the non-working adults with disabilities who were studied encountered difficulties. The most frequently cited reasons for being discouraged from looking for work were:

  • No appropriate jobs available - 52%
  • Family responsibilities - 34%
  • Lack of transportation - 29%
  • No appropriate information about jobs - 23%
  • Inadequate training - 21.6%
  • Fear of losing health insurance or Medicaid - 20.1%
  • Discouraged from working by family and friends - 14%

Work Accommodations:

Both persons with disabilities who were working and those not working stated a need for similar types of accommodations. One-third of non-working persons with disabilities reported the need for some type of accommodations. The other two-thirds could work without accommodations or were unaware of specific accommodations that might make work possible. The most common accommodations cited were:

  • Accessible parking or accessible public transit stop nearby - 19%
  • Need for an elevator - 17%
  • Adaptations to work station - 15%
  • Special work arrangements (reduction in work hours, reduced or part-time hours, job redesign) - 12%
  • Handrails or ramp - 10.4%
  • Job Coach - 5.6%
  • Specific office supplies - 4.5%
  • Personal Assistant - 4.0%
  • Braille, enlarged print, special lighting or audiotape - 2.5%
  • Voice synthesizer, TTY, Infrared System, or other technical device - 1.8%
  • Reader, Oral or Sign Language Interpreter - 1.8%

(Source: "Barriers and Supports for Work among Adults with Disabilities: Results from the NHIS-D”; Pamela Loprest, Elaine Maag)


How Employers Are Doing When it Comes to Hiring and Making Accommodations for Workers with Disabilities

Cornell University conducted two research initiatives to examine employer practices in response to the employment provisions of Title I of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and related civil rights legislation. Cornell interviewed by phone a random sample of human resource and equal employment opportunity personnel from the public and private sectors. Key findings of those initiatives are discussed below.


Meeting Accommodation and Access Needs of Applicants and Employees with Disabilities:

Listed below are the 11 areas of accommodations and five access areas outlined in the study and the percentage of employers who stated they had made accommodations in these areas.


Accommodation Private Sector % Public Sector %
Made facilities accessible 82 93
Had flexible human resource policy 79 93
Restructured jobs/work hours 69 87
Made transportation accommodations 67 86
Provided written job instructions 64 69
Modified work environment 62 93
Modified equipment 59 90
Made reassignment to vacant position 46 58
Provided readers and interpreters 36 79
Changed supervisory methods 35 55
Modified training material 31 49


Types of Access Provided Private Sector % Public Sector %
Wheelchair access 82 95
Time flexibility in test taking 45 39
Communication access for hearing impaired 43 91
Communication access for visually impaired 37 77
Removing volatile/scented substances 32 48


Identifying Barriers to Employment and Advancement for People with Disabilities:

Respondents were asked to rate seven possible barriers to employment and advancement of people with disabilities. Lack of related experience was seen as the biggest barrier by both the public and private sector employers. The results in this area are outlined below.


Barriers Private Sector % Public Sector %
Lack of related experience 49 53
Lack of required skills/training 39 45
Supervisor knowledge of accomodation 31 34
Attitudes/stereotypes 22 43
Cost of accomodations 16 19
Cost of supervision 12 10
Cost of training 9 11


Additional questions in this area were related to rating ways of reducing employment and advancement barriers, changes made in the workplace to meet the needs of employees with disabilities and the difficulty in making these changes. The results of the respondents` replies are outlined below.


Effective Reduction Strategies Private Sector % Public Sector %
Visible top management commitment 81 90
Staff training 32 71
Mentoring 59 71
On-site consultation/technical assistance 58 71
Short term outside assistance 41 43
Employer tax incentives/special budgets 26 69


Difficulty in making workplace change Private Sector % Public Sector %
Changing co-workers`/supervisors` attitudes 32 33
Modifying return to work policy 17 11
Creating flexibility in performance management system 17 15
Change in leave policy 10 8
Adjusting medical policies 7 9
Ensuring equal pay and benefits 2 4


These studies show that much still needs to be done to bring the unemployment rate for persons with disabilities into line with that of the general public. Progress is being made. More will need to be done by persons with disabilities, educators, rehabilitation counselors and the public and private employment communities if we are to achieve full integration of persons with disabilities into employment.

Key areas that need to be addressed are improvement in the education and training of persons with disabilities, more outreach on the part of the employment community to recruit persons with disabilities, a better understanding of reasonable accommodation and a concerted effort to break through the attitudinal barrier that is so detrimental to full integration of people with disabilities into the employment arena.


(Source: "Disability Employment Policies and Practices in Private and Federal Sector Organizations," Susanne M. Bruyere, Cornell University, Program on Employment and Disability, School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Extension Division)