The Center for An Accessible Society Disability Issues Information









Labor Day and People with Disabilities

Labor Day was established in the late 19th century -- to provide a "workingmen's holiday" and later evolved into a tribute to the hard-working men and women of our nation.

Discrimination's role in labor market figures.

Why has the employment rate of people with disabilities hovered around 35 percent since World War II?

  • Since 1995, the employment rate for women who are not disabled, has been 80.06 percent; for women with disabilities it is 33.06 percent.
  • Since 1995, the employment rate for men who are not disabled, has been 94.96 percent; for men with disabilities it is 36.21 percent.
  • For graduates of 4-year colleges, the employment rate, both men and women; has been 89.9 percent. For college graduates with disabilities, the employment rate is 50.6 percent.
  • Not surprisingly, given these figures, the median household income for women with disabilities during this time was only $13,974 (as compared to $28,518 for nondisabled women). Disabled men had a median household income of $15,275 (as compared to $31,068 for nondisabled men).

These numbers show that people with disabilities are not getting jobs; even when they do get jobs, their income is half what others are making.

Why these low employment levels? We have legislation in place to remove barriers that prevent people with disabilities from getting around their communities and into businesses, schools and public facilities. We have laws to ensure that children with disabilities get a quality education. We have the Americans with Disabilities Act to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities on the basis on their disability in gaining employment.

The truth is that, although these laws are on the books, they are only very slowly making an impact. America is still not a very accessible place for people with disabilities. Widespread discrimination, rooted in old and pervasive stereotypes, continues to exclude people with disabilities from participation in employment and other activities of social life.

According to a study by Susanne M. Bruyere, director of Cornell University's Program on Employment and Disability, employers who had hired a person with a disability said the most difficult change to make in order to meet that employee's needs was "changing coworker/supervisor attitudes." That change was rated as "difficult" by more than twice as many surveyed who had made the change for the next named reason ("changes to management system"), and at a rate of sixteen times greater than those responding who made changes "ensuring equal pay and benefits" for employees with disabilities.

That change was rated as "difficult" by more than twice as many surveyed who had made the change for the next named reason ("changes to management system"), and at a rate of sixteen times greater than those responding who made changes "ensuring equal pay and benefits" for employees with disabilities.

Unless they knew better, employers might well wonder why they should hire a person with disability who might require extra attention, assistance or have trouble fitting on or getting along with co-workers. Surveys conducted by DuPont Corporation and other companies show that employees with disabilities have lower turnover rates, absenteeism, and high productivity. Successive studies at DuPont Corp. consistently found that 90 percent of employees with disabilities were rated average or better in job performance by their managers.

Policymakers struggle to make workable an old tangle of overlapping and sometimes contradictory policies: e.g., for Social Security, being disabled means one cannot work, whereas under the ADA disability is not an impediment to working and holding a job.

Currently, the federal and state governments are in the process of implementing the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act, a pilot program designed to encourage people with disabilities to get off Social Security benefits and get jobs. A major barrier to that transition is health care coverage. A person on disability benefits is unlikely to leave the government benefits program and venture into the world of work if it means losing health care coverage. And getting health care coverage is no sure thing. This Act will enable participants to go off the benefits program and buy into the Medicaid program to continue medical coverage.

This is a positive step forward. But making it possible for more people with disabilities to be available for work is not enough. Employers must be prepared to hire people with disabilities who are qualified to do the job. And they must also ensure that workplaces are accommodating -- equipment and facilities for sure, but also the attitudes of co-workers and supervisors.

Millions of Americans with disabilities want to work, and are capable of working, and can be productive members of the labor force. Committing ourselves to an inclusive society in which everyone, especially those millions of working-age people with disabilities, has a real opportunity to experience the genuine rewards of labor would go a long way to restoring the real meaning of Labor Day.


Discrimination not uncommon in years following ADA passage, say researchers

Ending workplace discrimination against people with disabilities was a key aim of the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990. But it wasn't a silver bullet, at least early on, according to Jae Kennedy and Marjorie Olney, both professors of community health at the University of Illinois.

In an article being published this month in the journal Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, Kennedy and Olney estimate that almost 10 percent of working adults with disabilities faced job discrimination in the early 1990s, despite ADA protections. Press release from University of Illinois.





For more information:

Susanne M. Bruyere, Ph.D., CRC, Director
Program on Employment and Disability
Cornell University
School of Industrial & Labor Relations-Extension Division
Ithaca, New York 14853-3901 USA
Telephone: 607-255-9536

Peter Blanck
Director, Law, Health Policy and Disability Center
University of Iowa

Robert Silverstein, Director, Center for the Study and Advancement of Disability Policy of the School of Public Health and Health Services, George Washington University: 202-223-5340.



More background

Does labor force participation of people with a work disability differ by education?

As level of education rises, so does labor force participation, and this is true for people with and without work disabilities. However, labor force participation increases much more sharply for people with work disabilities than for those without. Among the work-disabled population, 25 to 64 years of age, only 16% of those with less than 12 years of education were in the labor force. Labor force participation rises to 27.3% for those who completed 12 years of school, increases again to 40.9% for those with 13 to 15 years of education, and reaches 50.6% for people with 16 or more years of education.

In comparison, among people in the same 25 to 64-year-old age group who do not have a work disability, 78.1% of those with less than 12 years of education were in the labor force. For those with 12 years of school, the rate was 85.6%; for those with 13 to 15 years of school, 88.2%; and for those with 16 years or more, 89.9%.

Labor force participation increases with education level more sharply for those with a work disability than for those without.

From Chartbook on Work and Disability in the United States, 1998
More data can be found at the Census Bureau website, including the table Labor Force Status--Work Disability Status of Civilians 16 to 74 Years Old, by Sex: 1998


The following sites contain information that may be of interest. Please bear in mind that the information at these sites is not controlled by the Center for An Accessible society. Links to these sites do not imply that the Center supports either the organizations or the views presented.
Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Workforce Investment and Employment Policy for Persons with Disabilities

The Law, Health Policy & Disability Center at the University of Iowa



Read the EEOC's Primer for Small Business on complying with the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act




Expert sources

Disabled People Start Own Businesses: Study

The case against sheltered workshops

About The Center for An Accessible Society