Disability Employment Disparities Explained

According to data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Disability Compendium (http://www.disabilitycompendium.org/) the 2012 resident population in the United States was estimated to be nearly 314,000,000 individuals, of which over 38 million (12.3%) indicated currently living with a disability. Since the stock market crash of 2008, a primary initiative of both the state and federal government has been to create jobs and decrease unemployment, yet stark disparities emerge when examining job figures as it relates to individuals with disabilities.

“In 2012, of the 20,007,119 individuals with disabilities ages 18 to 64 years living in the community, 6,551,987 individuals were employed- an employment rate of 32.7%. In contrast, of the 175,690,083 individuals without disabilities ages 18 to 64 years living in the community, 129,274,939 individuals were employed-an employment rate of 73.6 %.”

New York State mirrors the national employment statistics, with a population of 19,570,261, the numbers of working age (18 to 64) individuals with a disability was measured at 1,043,603 of which 322,875 indicated currently being employed, a rate of 30.9%. Working age New Yorkers without disabilities, of which there were 11,358,974, have an employment rate of 72.7% with 8,260,794 residents employed. That’s a gap of over 40% between New Yorkers with disabilities and those without. So what is being done?

Both the Employment First Executive Order #136 and Olmstead Executive Order # 84 have been administrative initiatives by Governor Andrew Cuomo, geared towards increasing the integration of individuals with disabilities into both the mainstream community and workforce. In his 2014 State of the State address, Cuomo committed to taking additional steps in pursuit of supporting veterans with disabilities who have found themselves struggling to reach gainful employment. Employment initiatives all well and good, but the core of the crisis remains in the shadows. What is it that is preventing people with disabilities across the country from reaching successful and long-term employment, and why?

A recent study by the Center for Independence of the Disabled New York (CIDNY) surveyed individuals with disabilities across the state on what they felt were areas of greatest challenge and disparity. Topping the chart in the category of disability-based discrimination ( areas like healthcare accessibility, voting access, education, etc.) was workforce discrimination. The extent to which job discrimination actually exists in the United States was made evident in a study by Rutgers University in 2003 in which one third of employers surveyed said that “persons with disabilities cannot effectively perform the required job tasks.” The study goes on to list “the second most common reason given for not hiring persons with disabilities was the fear of costly special facilities.”

Regardless of employer suspicions, the actual figures speak for themselves. The U. S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment released a study in 2010 developed by its Job Accommodation Network (JAN) which reported “that a high percentage (56%) of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make, while the rest typically cost only $600. Further studies report that employees with disabilities have comparatively better retention rate, “reducing the high cost of turnover.” One such study in 2002 revealed “that after one year of employment, the retention rate of persons with disabilities is 85%.”

If the point has not yet been made clear that individuals with disabilities can not only work but at times exceeded the performance of their able-bodied counterparts, history provides us with countless examples of successful small businesses owners with disabilities, not to mention at least 11 US presidents (from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson  to Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton). So if you’re one of the many Americans reviewing resumes and job applications, don’t be too quick to judge who may or may not be the most efficient or easiest to fit in, because you may just be passing up the next most famous inventor or future world leader.


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