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Disabled Doesn’t Mean Unable

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. Within the Act is section VII which makes it illegal for employers to discriminate based on an individual’s race, color, religion, or national origin.  The signing of this act also created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on July 2, 1965, to eliminate unlawful job discrimination through the enforcement of Title VII.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990.
Retrieved from: https://adata.org/ada-timeline

On September 15, 2010, the US Department of Justice published revised regulations for Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These regulations adopted enforceable accessibility standards called the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, which set minimum requirements (”both scoping and technical”) for newly designed and constructed or altered state and local government facilities, public accommodations, and commercial facilities to be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.

This history led up to what should have been a breakthrough in opportunities for the disabled and also a boost for the business world as well. Now in the U.S. as we appear to be getting Covid under control and attempting to bring our communities back to some kind of normality, and businesses begin to reopen and looking for employees, it seems to be a good time to take a serious look at our nation’s underutilized workforce.

Cornell University published the 2018 Disability Status Report and found among working-age people (ages 21 to 64), 185,763,800 individuals in the U.S. that 19,338,800 non-institutionalized people reported having one or more disabilities.

 Another highlight in the report, on page 35, uncovered that full-time employment among the non-disabled working-age group was at 61.1%, as compared to the 24.3% employment rate among the working-age group with disabilities. An additional statistic from this report states 32.0% of working-age people with a disability have some college or an Associate’s degree whereas the percent among non-disabled working-age people was 30.9%.

Why Don’t Employers Hire People With Disabilities

Many of us may not realize or be aware of the prevalence of people living with disabilities in the United States. According to the Invisible Disabilities Association: “there are probably more people living with disabilities in the United States than people realize”, and the association also states: “If people with disabilities were a formally recognized minority group, at 19% of the population, they would be the largest minority group in the United States.”

A 2021 News Release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found: “Across all age groups, persons with disabilities were less likely to be employed than those with no disabilities.”

In looking at these facts and figures, the next logical question should be, why? There is any number of reasons that one can find on the internet, but as someone who advocates for the disabled, there seems to be a lack of familiarity. There appears to be a missing component in the general understanding of what it means to be disabled, and especially to be an employee with a disability. We are far removed from the days of the disabled being circus freaks or considered evil, monsters, or wicked. The US Department of Labor (DOL) reminds us: “The foundation for the ADA is America’s promise of equal access to opportunity for all citizens.”

The DOL also found: “Being inclusive of people with disabilities – in recruitment, retention, promotion, and in providing an accessible environment – gives businesses a competitive edge.” Below is a list of some of the common myths about how the ADA affects employers along with some research and facts retrieved directly from the DOL website.

Myth: The ADA forces employers to hire unqualified individuals with disabilities.

Fact: Applicants who are unqualified for a job cannot claim discrimination under the ADA. Under the ADA, to be protected from discrimination in hiring, an individual with a disability must be qualified, which means he or she must meet all requirements for a job and be able to perform its essential functions with or without reasonable accommodations.

Myth: When there are several qualified applicants for a job and one has a disability, the ADA requires the employer to hire that person.

Fact: An employer is always free to hire the applicant of its choosing as long as the decision is not based on disability. If two people apply for a data entry position for which both speed and accuracy are required, the employer may hire the person with the higher speed and level of accuracy, because he or she is the most qualified.

Myth: The ADA gives job applicants with disabilities advantages over job applicants without disabilities.

Fact: The ADA does not give hiring preference to persons with disabilities.

Myth: Under the ADA, employers must give people with disabilities special privileges, known as accommodations.

Fact: Reasonable accommodations are intended to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have rights in employment equal — not superior — to those of individuals without disabilities. A reasonable accommodation is a modification to a job, work environment or the way work is performed that allows an individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform the essential functions of the job, and enjoy equal access to benefits available to other individuals in the workplace.

Myth: Providing accommodations for people with disabilities is expensive.

Fact: The majority of workers with disabilities do not need accommodations to perform their jobs, and for those who do, the cost is usually minimal. According to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a service from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, 58% of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make, while the rest typically cost only $500. Moreover, tax incentives are available to help employers cover the costs of accommodations, as well as modifications required to make their businesses accessible to persons with disabilities.

Myth: The ADA places a financial burden on small businesses that cannot afford to make accommodations for individuals with disabilities.

Fact: Businesses with fewer than 15 employees are not covered by the employment provisions of the ADA. Moreover, a covered employer does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation that would cause an “undue hardship.” Undue hardship is defined as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of factors such as an organization’s size, financial resources, and the nature and structure of its operation.

Myth: ADA lawsuits are flooding the courts.

Fact: The majority of ADA employment-related disputes are resolved through informal negotiation or mediation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces the ADA’s employment provisions, carefully investigates the merits of each case and offers many alternatives to litigation as a way to resolve any potential problem. The number of ADA employment-related cases, whether filed privately or by the EEOC, represents a tiny percentage of the millions of employers in the U.S.

Myth: The ADA is frequently misused by people with vague complaints or diagnoses.

Fact: If an individual files a complaint of discriminatory treatment, denial of accommodation, or harassment under the ADA and does not have a condition that meets its definition of disability, the complaint is dismissed. While claims by people with false or minor conditions may get considerable media attention, the reality is that these complaints are usually dismissed.

Myth: The ADA protects employees who have difficult or rude personalities or are troublemakers.

Fact: Improper behavior in and of itself does not constitute a disability, and having a disability does not excuse employees from performing essential job tasks and following the same conduct standards required of all employees. The courts have consistently ruled that “common sense” conduct standards, such as getting along with co-workers and listening to supervisors, are legitimate job requirements that employers can enforce equally among all employees.

Myth: Under the ADA, an employer cannot fire an employee who has a disability.

Fact: Employers can fire workers with disabilities under three conditions:

  • The termination is unrelated to the disability or
  • The employee does not meet legitimate requirements for the job, such as performance or production standards, with or without a reasonable accommodation or
  • Because of the employee’s disability, he or she poses a direct threat to health or safety in the workplace.
Reasonable Accommodations symbols
Retrieved from: https://abilityjobs.com/job-seekers-resources/

Reasonable Accommodations

Employers must provide reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities and the accommodations are at the expense of the employer. The ADA Network defines reasonable accommodations as “any change to the application or hiring

process, to the job, to the way the job is done, or the work environment that allows a person with a disability who is qualified for the job to perform the essential functions of that job and enjoy equal employment opportunities. Accommodations are considered reasonable if they do not create an undue hardship or a direct threat.”

For an employee to qualify for a position and accommodation, the applicant must be able to perform the essential duties of the position available. The applicant must have a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities. The employer can request medical documentation by a physician to support the accommodation if a disability is not visible.

As reported by JAN, 59 percent of accommodations cost the employer nothing, while the remaining accommodations had a typical cost of only $500 and most employers report this cost has more than paid for itself many times over.

To determine the type of accommodation, the employer must consider the request made by the applicant or employee with the disability and assess if it is a reasonable request and the way this will affect the ability to perform their job and any impact on the environment they will be working in. Some examples of reasonable accommodations might be,

  • Provide a reserved parking space
  • Access to the work area
  • Provide an aid or a service to improve access
  • Alternative formats of presentations, test and training materials
  • Allow a flexible work schedule
  • Allow for flexible lunches and breaks
  • Allow employees’ service animals at the job

Both the employer and employee should be participants in determining the most effective accommodation. It’s important to remember, reasonable accommodations are not to provide an advantage they are meant to level the playing field, to create opportunity for everyone.

The ADA, under federal law, protects employees with disabilities from discrimination and harassment at the workplace. Harassment occurs when coworkers, a supervisor, or even third parties subject an employee to unwelcome actions, comments, or conduct because of the employee’s disability.

Reasons Why Employers Should Hire People With Disabilities

For businesses large and small the driving force behind their success is employees. People with disabilities make up a large untapped talented resource who are not always given a fair chance.

The hiring of workers with a disability can bring to a business financial, legal, and social benefits which have been overlooked. Below are some of the reasons hiring from this talent pool can build your business reputation for being a fair and inclusive employer, a non-discriminating workplace while boosting customers, increasing your bottom line, and gaining a competitive advantage.

Benefit of Hiring Employees with Disabilities

  1. Everyone Benefits: When we shift the focus to an employee’s ability, everyone benefits, from management to front line workers to customers.
  2. Job Retention: Many workers with disabilities demonstrate a high degree of loyalty, often remaining with employers for years, reducing turnover and adding stability to the workforce.
  3. Untapped Labor Pool: Employees with disabilities can ease concerns about labor shortages.  Employees with disabilities often show up with positive, can-do attitude and take great pride in their work.
  4. Increased Profits: Many employer who have hired workers with disabilities have seen a positive impact on their bottom line. Diverse work groups can create better solutions to business challenges.
  5. Return of Investment: Studies have concluded that for each dollar spent on reasonable accommodations, business gain $10-$35 in benefits.
  6. Tax Incentives: Business me be eligible for tax incentives such as the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, Disabled Access Credit, and Architectural/Transportation Barrier Removal Tax Deduction.
  7. Performance: Research shows no job performance difference between employees with disabilities and their non-disabled colleagues.  Employers report that employees with disabilities motivate co-workers leading to increased productivity.
  8. Customer Loyalty: Research shows that employing people with disabilities taps into a growing market of customers with disabilities, $220 billion in discretionary spending each year. Further, 92% of customers reflect favorably on businesses known to hire people with disabilities, with 87% preferring to do business with these companies.
  9. Employee Engagement: Employers report that having employees with disabilities contributes to improved morale and productivity. 80% of employers state employees with disabilities are as productive as any other employee.
  10. Dependability and Flexibility: Studies have shown that employees with disabilities have lower rates of absenteeism and will often “step up to the plate” to take on new tasks, assist co-workers, or fill in when needed.

Source and for more information: https://www.adainfo.org/training/top-reasons-hire-applicant-disability-10-5-16


In his book Hidden Talent, Mark Lengnick-Hall concludes by writing: “Hiring and retaining people with disabilities is a win-win-win solution to a number of problems.” Mr. Lengnick-Hall continues to list three examples:

  1. “Many people with disabilities want to work but currently are unemployed. They want to work for the same reasons that non-disabled people want to work: to obtain income, to support themselves and their families, to get the satisfaction that can be derived from a job and a career, and to make contributions to organizations and society.
  2. Employers need the best talent available to compete effectively in a global economy. Capitalizing on a source of good employees could make the difference between success and failure in the marketplace.
  3. Society is better off when more people with disabilities are able to find productive work. People with disabilities then pay taxes, have more income to purchase goods and services and reduce their dependency on taxpayer-supported assistance programs.

Despite the passage of the ADA, much progress has been made for those with disabilities, yet we have not seen these win-win-win solutions. Changes in attitudes towards people with disabilities and understanding of their potential will help to bring about an all-inclusive workplace.

Illustration of a diverse group of employees. Retrieved from:

Works Cited

United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. (2010). Information and Technical Assistance on the Americans with Disabilities Act. Retrieved from: https://www.ada.gov/2010ADAstandards_index.htm

ILR School, Cornell University. (2020). 2018 Disability Status Report – United States. Retrieved from: https://www.disabilitystatistics.org/StatusReports/2018-PDF/2018-StatusReport_US.pdf

Job Accommodation Network, (JAN). (2021). A to Z of Disabilities and Accommodations.
Retrieved from: https://askjan.org/

United States Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy, (2021). Employers and The ADA: Myths and Facts. Retrieved from: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/odep/publications/fact-sheets/americans-with-disabilities-act

ADA, National Network. (2021). Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace. Retrieved from: https://adata.org/factsheet/reasonable-accommodations-workplace

Invisible Disabilities Association. (2020). People with Disabilities are the Largest Minority Group in the US. Retrieved from: https://invisibledisabilities.org/coping-with-invisible-disabilities/disability-benefits/disabilities-largest-minority-group-us/

Disabled Persons, Inc. (2021). What Is Considered a Reasonable Accommodation Under the Americans With Disabilities Act in 2020? Retrieved from: https://www.disabledperson.com/blog/posts/what-is-considered-a-reasonable-accommodation-under-the-americans-with-disabilities-act-in-2020?keyword=ada%20act&matchtype=b&adposition=&device=c&network=g&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIg9fM-vuy8AIVXAaICR0uNAb-EAAYBCAAEgJj7PD_BwEg7gclid=

Mid-Atlantic ADA Center and TransCen, Inc. (2021). Top Reasons To Hire An Applicant With A Disability. Retrieved from: https://www.adainfo.org/training/top-reasons-hire-applicant-disability-10-5-16

Guerin, Lisa, J.D. (2021). When Is Disability Harassment Illegal? Retrieved from: https://www.disabilitysecrets.com/resources/when-is-disability-harassment-illegal.html

U.S. Department of Labor. (2020). Disability & Employment: A Timeline. Commemorating 30 Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Retrieved from: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/odep/ada30/timeline

Smith, Arina. (2018). 7 Awesome Benefits of Hiring Disabled Workers for Your Small Business. Retrieved from: https://realwealthbusiness.com/awesome-benefits-hiring-disabled-workers-small-business/

U.S.,Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (2021). The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008. Retrieved from: https://www.eeoc.gov/statutes/americans-disabilities-act-amendments-act-2008

Additional Information

EARN Employer Assistance Resource Network on Disability Inclusion https://askearn.org/topics/creating-an-accessible-and-welcoming-workplace/physical-accessibility/

You have the responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations.

The University of New Hampshire, Institute on Disability/UCED

U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy

What Is Considered a Reasonable Accommodation Under the Americans With Disabilities Act in 2020?

10 Recruitment Tips to Attract People with Disabilities

Information, Guidance, and Training on the Americans with Disabilities Act

ADA Network

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