Today, people with disabilities face a number of daunting hurdles when it comes to employment.
According to a 2012 Census Bureau report, only 41% of disabled people ages 21 to 64 are employed, compared to 79% of non-disabled people in that age group. Additionally, disabled workers who do have jobs earn about $US9,000 less a year than non-disabled workers.
Sadly, then, it’s not surprising to hear that employers are less interested in hiring people with disabilities than those without.
What is surprising, however, especially to the researchers of a recent study, is just how much hiring managers discriminate against well-qualified job candidates who have a disability.
After sending fake résumés and cover letters in response to more than 6,000 accounting job postings, researchers from Rutgers and Syracuse universities found that fictional applicants who disclosed their disabilities received on average 26% less employer interest than those without disabilities.
“I don’t think we were astounded by the fact that there were fewer expressions of interest” for people with disabilities, Lisa Schur, a Rutgers political scientist who was part of the research team, tells the New York Times. “But I don’t think we were expecting it to be as large.”
The researchers began by creating two résumés, one for a highly qualified job candidate with six years of accounting experience and one for a recent college graduate. They then sent each résumé with one of three cover letters: One that didn’t disclose a disability, one that disclosed a spinal cord injury, and one that disclosed the presence of Asperger’s Syndrome.
The largest gap came from well-qualified candidates with and without a disability.
Researchers found that experienced applicants with disabilities had the lowest chance of employer interest at 34% compared to those without disabilities, and the kind of disability disclosed made little difference.
“This goes against the idea that increased training, qualifications, and successful labour market experience will help to erase the disadvantages faced by people with disabilities,” the study authors note.
On a more positive note, though, researchers found the disability gap to be concentrated among small private firms that are not covered by the American Disabilities Act.
The researchers note that at the very least this could indicate that ADA standards have not hurt job seekers, and it’s possible that policies and initiatives to reduce employer reluctance to hire people with disabilities can have a positive impact.
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