Survey Reveals Employment Gap Between Americans With and Without Disabilities

A new survey, sponsored by the Kessler Foundation and National
Organization on Disability has revealed that most Americans with disabilities
are still struggling with the same lifestyle and economic issues they
confronted in 1990 when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became
federal law. Despite the recent 20th anniversary of the ADA becoming law, the
survey found little or no substantial gains in 10 key indicators ranging from
employment and income to social engagement and life satisfaction.

Rodger DeRose, president and chief executive officer of the Kessler
Foundation, told O&P Business News that when you look deeper
at the results of the study, progress can be found.

  Rodger DeRose
  Rodger DeRose

“I think progress has been made primarily in education and
political participation, which is important,” DeRose said. “It allows
people to vote with their conscience when it comes to electing our

DeRose also acknowledged the significant gains made in public
transportation for people with disabilities. He cited carve outs on street
corners and more public transportation options as tangible evidence of

Still, the big area of concern continues to be the vast employment gap
between Americans with and without disabilities.

“We still have a huge gap in employment and it drives income
levels, poverty and financial status,” DeRose said. “That drives your
ability to socialize and to go out to public places like restaurants and become
reengaged in the community. When you look at those indicators, they are all an
outcome of employment.”

Among all working-age people with disabilities, only 21% say they are
employed full or part time, compared to 59% of people without disabilities. The
gap has slightly decreased since its tracking in 1998. In 1998 the employment
gap was 50 percentage points. In 2000, 49 percentage points and in 2004 the gap
was 43 percentage points.

This year, three new indicators were added to the survey that shed
additional light on the social and economic gaps between those with and without
disabilities: technology, access to mental health services and overall
financial situation.

The second largest gap between people with and without disabilities
derived from the technology indicator. According to the survey, 85% of adults
without disabilities use the Internet. For disabled adults, the percentage
drops to 54% — a gap of 31 percentage points.

According to the survey, people with disabilities are more than twice as
likely as people without disabilities to report that they have a household
income of $15,000 or less, 34% versus 15% respectively — a gap of 19
percentage points.

Further, 58% of disabled people admit they are struggling to get by,
going further into debt each month, or living paycheck to paycheck compared to
34% for people without disabilities — a difference of 24 percentage
points, according to the survey.

  Among working-age people, 21% of people with disabilities and 59% of people without disabilities reported full- or part-time employment.
  Among working-age people, 21% of
people with disabilities and 59% of people without disabilities reported full-
or part-time employment.
  Source: Kessler Foundation and
National Organization on Disability

The employment gap is directly linked to the slow progress in other key
areas for people with disabilities. DeRose admits no one is satisfied by these

“We have work to do in the area of employment in terms of moving
further ahead in the next 5 to10 years and beyond,” DeRose said.

In order to close the employment gap, organizations must create a
disability friendly hiring policy. Those who do, says DeRose, will have a
distinct advantage over their competition.

“There is what I call a first mover advantage here — a
competitive advantage that corporate America has not yet realized in terms of
adaptability, creativity, loyalty, low turnover and low absenteeism,” he
said. “People with disabilities are willing to commit to an organization
and those are the kinds of skill sets and values that organizations want.”

According to DeRose, the employment of people with disabilities has the
potential to become as popular among executives as the green movement.

“This is what corporations looked at with the ecological movement
and I think hiring people with disabilities will be the equivalent of the green
movement within the next 5 years,” he predicted.

In order to sustain the movement, organizations must view the hiring of
individuals with disabilities as employees bringing value to the company,
rather than charity.

“You need to say as an organization, chief executive officer or
chief financial officer, I want to look at people with disabilities and create
the skill sets for them to come into the company given the values that they
bring to a company,” he explained. “Sustainability only comes if the
company has a willingness to hire the disabled individual.” — by
Anthony Calabro

For more information:

  • Kessler Foundation/NOD. The ADA, 20 years later. Available at: Accessed Aug. 11, 2010.


People with disabilities can make an enormous contribution to the
workforce. Their problem-solving abilities, tenacity and the resilience that it
takes to navigate a world that is not necessarily set up for people with
disabilities are terrific assets that can be added toward high productivity in
the workforce. Employers need to recognize those traits and more employers are.

There are a handful of employers that have recognized the value people
with disabilities bring to the workforce.

I think there are also some fears, misperceptions and stigmas that we
have to breakdown including higher health care costs, higher rates of
absenteeism or the cost of accommodations. We have found that the average cost
of accommodations for a disabled worker is less than $600.

Public policy does not necessarily provide the right kind of incentive.
There are pioneering efforts being made in this regard, but they are merely
that — pioneering efforts.

The Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability
Insurance systems, along with Medicaid are the cash benefits for people with
disabilities who are unemployed. These benefits make it difficult for a
disabled individual to accept an entry-level job without health care benefits.
In terms of health care coverage, it can be an irrational decision to go back
to work. I think public policy needs to begin shifting to favor work.

— Carol Glazer
President, National
Organization on Disability

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