Often times when we think of discrimination, we think of injustices against people of color and women in a variety of settings like criminal justice, civil rights, and education. Unfortunately, discrimination stretches much further over many groups of people like those who are physically and mentally handicapped. Those with disabilities are often discriminated against in the workplace and lose many opportunities that other groups of people are afforded. Many of those with disabilities stay unemployed because employers do not want to or cannot accommodate for their disabilities. Although the American Disabilities Act is supposed to protect those with disabilities from experiencing this type of treatment, it is still prevalent in today’s society.
Currently, there are about 61 million people in the United States that have a disability that impairs normal functioning and daily activities (CDC, 2018). Unfortunately, of those 61 million people with a disability only about 19% of them are employed according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019). Many of them are unemployed because they are physically or mentally incapable of working, but many also are unable to find jobs that will cater to their needs or be open to hiring them. Many employers hesitate to offer employment to disabled applicants because they have an uniformed or ignorant perspective on what disabled people are capable of in the workplace. One research study examined viewpoints of several employers and what their concerns were pertaining to hiring disabled applicants (Bonaccio et al., 2019). This study found that many employers believed that disabled applicants were underqualified and were concerned that they could not ask questions pertaining to the disability that would determine if they were qualified. Employers also expressed concerns over the costs attributed to hiring a disabled person like adding wheelchair access to buildings or flexibility of schedule. Many of these concerns are just due to ignorance because studies have shown that the costs related to accommodating disabilities are not as excessive as presumed and can even save a company money because of the many tax credits available to employers that hired disabled works (as cited by Bonaccio et al., 2019). It seems that U.S employers exhibit as Gruman, Schneider, and Coutts (2017) describe as uncertainty avoidance because they perceive that by hiring those with disabilities, they are accumulating a high amount of risk. If more employers were educated on disabilities and how many are capable of effectively working even with the circumstances surrounding their disability, I believe there would be a dramatic decrease in unemployed among the disabled community.
Within the disabled community, even after being hired with a disability many experience discrimination within the workplace. Many disabled workers experience harassment, unequal pay, and even get laid off or fired without reasoning. In one study that analyzed many of the circumstances of discrimination in the workplace for those who had sensory (learning disabilities, hearing, and vision impaired) and non-sensory disabilities (Graham et al., 2019). For both non-sensory and sensory disabilities, involuntary termination was ranked the number one complaint of discrimination while those with non-sensory disabilities rated harassment as the third most prevalent discriminative action. Those who had sensory disabilities were less likely to be promoted or receiving training compared to all other disabilities. Many of those with disabilities may experience relative deprivation, which is the feeling that they are deprived of the same opportunities and capabilities of an able-bodied person (Gruman, Schneider, & Coutts, 2017). They may try to compensate with this deprivation by seeking employment opportunities so that they can achieve independence and a positive social identity within society.
It is unfortunate that in today’s society, our disabled are becoming the forgotten people in the workplace. They often try to seek employment so they can provide some financial security and independence especially with their higher medical costs that can become crippling. It seems that many disabled people are stigmatized on both sides of the workplace. They are stigmatized and discriminated against when applying for the position because employers do not understand or do not want to hire disabled workers for the concern of liability. They are also stigmatized once they are hired and as a result are subjected to harassment, lack of opportunities, and wrongful termination. Fortunately, technological advances are allowing more disabled workers to be hired like in the case of Starbucks that has expanded its stores to include technologies that allow deaf and visually impaired workers to work as baristas. Hopefully with more education and social contact with those that are disabled more employers would be open to hiring those with physical, mental, and behavioral disabilities.
Bonaccio, S., Connelly, C. E., Gellatly, I. R., Jetha, A., & Ginis, K. A. M. (2019). The participation of people with disabilities in the workplace across the employment cycle: Employer concerns and research evidence. Journal of Business and Psychology, 1–24. doi: 10.1007/s10869-018-9602-5
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, August 16). 1 in 4 US adults live with a disability. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0816-disability.html.
Graham, K. M., Mcmahon, B. T., Kim, J. H., Simpson, P., & Mcmahon, M. C. (2019). Patterns of workplace discrimination across broad categories of disability. Rehabilitation Psychology, 64(2), 194–202. doi: 10.1037/rep0000227
Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. (2017). Applied social psychology: understanding and addressing social and practical problems. (3rd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2019, February 26). Persons with a disability: Labor force Characteristics Summary. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/disabl.nr0.htm.