Why Don't Employers Hire and Retain Workers with Disabilities?

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Despite persistently low employment rates among working-age adults with disabilities, prior research on employer practices and attitudes toward workers with disabilities paints a generally rosy picture of successfully accommodated workers in a welcoming environment. Findings from previous studies might have been biased because of either employer self-selection or social desirability, yielding non-representative or artificially positive conclusions.


In this study, a novel approach was used to survey human resource professionals and supervisors working for employers known or reputed to be resistant to complying with the ADA's employment provisions. Attendees of employer-requested ADA training sessions were asked to assess various possible reasons that employers in general might not hire, retain, or accommodate workers with disabilities and to rate strategies and policy changes that might make it more likely for employers to do so.


As cited by respondents, the principal barriers to employing workers with disabilities are lack of awareness of disability and accommodation issues, concern over costs, and fear of legal liability. With regard to strategies employers might use to increase hiring and retention, respondents identified increased training and centralized disability and accommodation expertise and mechanisms. Public policy approaches preferred by respondents include no-cost external problem-solving, subsidized accommodations, tax breaks, and mediation in lieu of formal complaints or lawsuits.


Findings suggest straightforward approaches that employers might use to facilitate hiring and retention of workers with disabilities, as well as new public programs or policy changes that could increase labor force participation among working-age adults who have disabilities.

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