Employees With Disabilities Don’t Check Disability Box

disability 2The December unemployment report was great news for the U.S. economy with nearly 300,000 jobs added to the job rolls.

But, the numbers still are pretty bad for one group of employees: those with disabilities.

While the jobless rate in December for people with a disability declined to 10.3% from 11.2 % in the same month last year, it’s still more than double the rate for employees without a disability, according to the unemployment report put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics today.

Making matters worse, most employees with disabilities are largely still not in the job market at all. The participation rate – those working or actively looking for work – for employees with disabilities it still hovering near 20%, compared to nearly 70% among those with no disabilities.

What’s going on? One answer may be how people with disabilities see themselves.

Turns out, the majority of individuals with at least one disability don’t identify themselves as a person with a disability, according to preliminary data from a national survey conducted by Families and Work Institute.

The research, to be included in a study to be released later this year done in collaboration with the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, shines light on an issue that may be hampering more robust employment for those with disabilities, even in workplaces where employers are going out of their way to hire more people from this group.

“When asked if they identify as a person with a disability, two-thirds (66%) of people with a disability said no. Asking the single question ‘do you have a disability,’ on an employment application will probably under represent the population of your employees who would qualify as having a disability,”said Kenneth Matos, the Institute’s senior director of research.

It also becomes an issue for employed individuals who may have a disability but don’t share their challenges with employers or take advantage of support that may be available under the Americans with Disabilities Act or community programs or help that’s available or could be made available by an employer.

For example, an employee who’s getting older and is finding it harder to hear may leave instead of asking for an accommodation at work or turn to a hearing aid. Or, an employee who’s offered a new position may find that an emotional condition keeps her or him from accepting.

“If you don’t identify as a person with a disability you may stay out of or leave the workforce before realizing that you could take advantage of the supports we label as being for ‘people with disabilities’,” he explained. “You might not see yourself as covered under the ADA, or think that it is appropriate to ask your employer for a reasonable accommodation.” Matos said.

What to do?

It’s important to think about what you ask on employment applications. “You have to ask about specific forms of disabilities or provide examples to get a good read,” he advised, not just ask: “Do you have a disability?”

And as an employer, taking the reasonable accommodations approach may not work because people aren’t going to tell you. Instead, focus on universal design from the beginning, Matos added.

Make the workplace welcoming to employees with disabilities and older workers, whether they are new hires or part of your existing workforce. For example, set up office space to be easily navigated by someone in a wheelchair, or make sure all staffers know about technologies available to help folks with vision or hearing problems.

Basically, he added, “Set up policies and procedures so employees don’t have to identify to get the supports they need to succeed.”

Click here for information about our October 2015 Workplace Accommodations and Disability Employment webinar and other resources for disability in the workplace.

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