|A review of literature on
employers' attitudes toward workers with disabilities was
completed. Factors that may affect employers' attitudes toward
persons with disabilities in the workforce are provided, as well
as a description of the methodologies used in the
investigations. Although several key themes emerge, decades of
employer attitudinal research has generally produced
inconsistent findings due to variations in research design.
Major legislative and
philosophical forces during the past 30 years have attempted to
enhance the participation of working-age Americans with
disabilities in the competitive labor market. The public policy
initiatives related to employers and/or work disability began in
1970 with the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act
(OSHA). OSHA was followed by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973,
state workers' compensation enactments of the 1980s and 1990s,
the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, the Workforce
Investment Act (WIA) of 1998, and the Ticket to Work and Work
Incentives Improvement Act (TWWIIA) of 1999 (Hunt, 1999).
The forces that have both
paralleled and provided the impetus for passage of much of the
legislation include the following:
1. significant changes in
thinking regarding the vocational rehabilitation and employment
potential of Americans with disabilities,
2. the evolving role of employers
in addressing disability in the workplace, and
3. the civil rights movement.
For persons with significant
disabilities, who might have once been viewed as unemployable,
these societal trends have fostered a shift from a medical model
emphasizing a clinic or center-based approach of "fixing" or
"curing" people with disabilities to the present emphasis on
capabilities, choice, and workplace supports in maximizing the
work potential of people with disabilities. Recently, other
factors have also contributed to a positive outlook regarding
the employment potential of Americans with disabilities desiring
to work. These factors include favorable economic conditions and
a strong demand for labor.
Yet, despite increased laws
designed to address employment discrimination and provide for
workplace accommodations for qualified workers with
disabilities, the employment rate of persons with disabilities
has increased very little since the late 1980s. A series of
studies conducted by the National Organization on Disability
(NOD), in collaboration with Louis Harris and Associates (1998)
reported an actual increase in the unemployment rate from 66% in
1986 to 71% in 1998. The unemployment rate of persons with
disabilities is especially disheartening because the studies
found that an overwhelming majority (72%) of unemployed persons
with disabilities indicated that they preferred to work and
because representatives from business and industry identified
recruitment and selection of qualified workers as their top
concern for the new millenium (Bureau of National Affairs [BNA],
2000). In a time marked by a critical demand for labor and
significant economic expansion and prosperity, it is
discouraging that members of our nation's largest minority,
persons with disabilities, are not participating in the labor
force to the same extent as their peers without disabilities.
Employers play a critical role in
addressing the high unemployment rate experienced by persons
with disabilities. A number of researchers have identified
employer attitudes toward persons with disabilities as an
important factor in the staggering unemployment rate of persons
with disabilities (Blanck, 1998; King, 1993; Smith, 1992).
Although employers' attitudes toward individuals with
disabilities have been studied extensively, the research has
produced inconsistent findings. Some factors identified as
positive attributes by some employers (e.g., attendance, safety,
productivity) have been cited as concerns by employers in other
studies (Nietupski, HamreNietupski, VanderHart, & Fishback,
1996). Because of inconsistency in methodology it is difficult
to compare and derive conclusions based on the results of
previous research. A plausible explanation for these mixed
results is that employers were not categorized by
characteristics that might influence their perceptions of
persons with disabilities in the workforce. Investigations have
identified a variety of business, respondent, and
applicant-worker characteristics that may affect employer
perceptions of persons with disabilities in the workforce (see
Table 1). The purpose of this article is to review the empirical
literature related to employers' perceptions of persons with
disabilities in the workforce and to identify characteristics
that might affect employer perceptions.
Data Collection Process
The literature reviewed was drawn
primarily from the fields of vocational rehabilitation,
psychology, mental retardation and other developmental
disabilities, and mental illness. Research on employers'
attitudes toward persons with disabilities spans almost half a
century, commencing with studies investigating their attitudes
toward workers with cardiac limitations (Lee, Rusk, White, &
Williams, 1957; Olshansky, Friedland, Clark, & Sprague, 1955;
Reeder & Donahue, 1958) and former mental health patients (Olshansky,
Grob, & Malamud, 1958). For the purpose of this review, the
majority of literature that was analyzed was published from 1982
The process for identifying
research on employers' attitudes about workers with disabilities
began with a search of electronic databases (i.e., ERIC,
Dissertations Online, PsychLit). Keywords included employer
attitudes, workers with disabilities, mental retardation, mental
illness, handicapped, business and disability, mental illness,
developmental disabilities, vocational rehabilitation, supported
employment, and employment. To be included in the review, the
study had to involve data gathered from community-based
employers or organizations regarding their perceptions of
persons with disabilities in the workforce or their actual
experiences with workers with disabilities. A total of 24
studies were reviewed. The first section of the literature
review addresses factors or characteristics that may affect
employer attitudes toward persons with disabilities in the
workforce (see Table 1). It is followed by a review of the
methodological differences in the reviewed research and a
summary of key findings.
Disability of Employee or
Several studies have explored
employer attitudes toward individuals with disabilities in the
workforce according to the type or severity of the disability
(e.g., Fuqua, Rathburn, & Gade, 1984; Johnson, Greenwood, &
Schriner, 1988; McFarlin, Song, & Sonntag, 1991; Thakker, 1997).
The results indicate that employers expressed greater concerns
over employing persons with mental or emotional disabilities
than employing persons with physical disabilities. For example,
Fuqua et al. examined eight areas of disability in a mail survey
sent to randomly selected urban employers. The disability areas
included blindness, cerebral palsy, paraplegia, emotional
problems, epilepsy, amputation, deafness, and mental
disabilities. Employers expressed the greatest concern toward
employing individuals with mental disabilities and blindness and
were least concerned about hiring individuals with epilepsy.
Findings from a survey of Fortune
500 companies concur with the results reported by Fuqua and
colleagues (1984). Over 90% of the respondents responded
affirmatively to hiring individuals with physical disabilities
or hearing impairments, 39% responded affirmatively to hiring
individuals with severe physical disabilities, and 20% responded
affirmatively to hiring applicants with severe mental
disabilities (McFarlin et al., 1991). Similarly, employers from
a variety of businesses and industries located in Arkansas and
Oklahoma believed that workers with mental disabilities and
emotional disabilities were of greater concern than workers with
physical or communication disabilities (Johnson et al., 1988).
Although McFarlin and colleagues (1991) found that attitudes
toward workers with disabilities tended to be more positive with
respect to turnover, absenteeism, and work performance, their
results contrast with other reported findings (e.g., Fuqua et
al., 1984; Johnson et al., 1988). For example, over two thirds
of the executives in the study conducted by McFarlin et al.
agreed with statements indicating that workers with disabilities
perform as well as and have lower turnover rates than their
counterparts without disabilities, whereas findings from other
studies revealed employers' concerns with the productivity or
performance of workers with disabilities (e.g., Fuqua et al.,
1984; Johnson et al., 1988).
Findings regarding the social
skills of workers with disabilities and their ability to
interact or get along with coworkers were also inconsistent in
studies investigating different disability types. In some
instances, employers expressed little concern with coworker
acceptance or the ability of workers with disabilities to
interact with coworkers (Fuqua et al., 1984; McFarlin et al.,
1991). In contrast, employers did express concerns regarding the
social skills of workers with mental, emotional, or
communication disabilities and the workers' ability to function
as part of a team (Johnson et al., 1988). Employers were least
concerned with the ability of persons with physical disabilities
to socialize with coworkers and work as part of a team.
In more recent studies, employers
have not only expressed more favorable attitudes toward
employing persons with severe disabilities in the workplace but
also viewed workers with severe disabilities as dependable,
productive workers who can interact socially and foster positive
attitudes on the part of their coworkers (Levy, Jessop,
Rimmerman, Francis, & Levy, 1993). Almost three fourths (74%) of
the employers believed that the productivity rates of workers
with severe disabilities can be as high as those of workers who
are not disabled. The perceptions of employers reported by Levy
and colleagues (1993) contradict the findings of prior employer
attitudinal research (e.g., Fuqua et al., 1984; Johnson et al.,
1988). However, it is unclear how much the idea of social
desirability influences employer responses. Although all three
studies were conducted prior to the implementation of ADA
employment regulations, the response rate reported by Levy and
colleagues (1993) was extremely low (6%) despite a larger sample
size (N = 418) than that of Fuqua et al., McFarlin et al.
(1991), and Johnson et al.
Specific Disability Population
Employer attitudes toward a
specific disability population have also been studied
extensively. For example, prior to the effective date for
employer compliance with the Title I regulations of the ADA,
Minskoff, Sautter, Hoffmann, and Hawks (1987) surveyed employers
across nine different industries regarding their attitudes
toward individuals with learning disabilities. One third of the
respondents indicated that they would not knowingly hire an
applicant with a learning disability. Employers were less
positive in their attitudes toward hiring persons with learning
disabilities and affording them special consideration than
toward hiring the disabled population in general. Yet, almost
three fourths of the employers (72%) were willing to give
individuals with learning disabilities special considerations
that they would not afford to coworkers without disabilities.
Employers' willingness to make
special accommodations for workers with disabilities is also
illustrated by employers who have hired persons with mental
retardation. Employer representatives in several studies have
indicated that workers with mental retardation may require extra
time and effort to be integrated into the workforce (Nietupski
et al., 1996; Shafer, Hill, Seyfarth, & Wehman, 1987). Results
of a recent study indicated that 79% of the employers perceived
the amount of training and supervision for workers with mental
retardation to be greater than that for nondisabled coworkers
(Olson, Cioffi, Yovanoff, & Mank, 2000). Yet, employers in that
same study reported that employing persons with mental
retardation brings other benefits to their business, such as
enhancing their organization's public image and promoting
diversity in the workplace.
Employers may also be willing to
allow less-than-desired performance by employees with mental
retardation in exchange for reliable attendance and low turnover
(Blanck, 1998; Shafer et al., 1987; Shafer, Kregel, Banks, &
Hill, 1988) or dedication to work (Johnson et al., 1988;
Nietupski et al., 1996). Thus, employers may be willing to
devote additional time to training and supervision or to
sacrifice productivity in exchange for a reliable, dedicated
employee or for other unintended benefits, such as increased
workforce diversity and promoting positive corporate social
The reporting by businesses
representatives of actual experiences with employing workers
with mental retardation has also assisted in dispelling other
longstanding myths and misconceptions about employing persons
with disabilities. For instance, employing persons with mental
retardation does not result in an increase in health insurance
rates or workers' compensation claims (Blanck, 1998; Olson et
al., 2000; Shafer et al., 1987) or pose a safety risk in the
workplace (Blanck, 1998; Olson et al., 2000). Employers with
experience in supervising persons with disabilities also
indicated they were pleased with the individuals' work quality (Nietupski
et al., 1996) or work performance (Marcouiller, Smith, &
Previous Experience with
Individuals with Disabilities
Employers' previous experiences
with individuals with specific disabilities such as deafness
(Phillips, 1975), mental retardation (Gibson & Groeneweg, 1986;
Gruenhagen, 1982), epilepsy (Gade & Toutges, 1983), psychiatric
disability (Diksa & Rogers, 1996) also reported more favorable
attitudes toward hiring applicants with the same disability. For
example, in a study of employers' attitudes toward hiring
individuals who are deaf, the results indicated that employers
with previous experience employing individuals who are deaf have
more positive attitudes toward hiring such a person again.
However, employers with limited or no experience hiring persons
who are deaf expressed concern over worker safety (Phillips,
1975). Gruenhagen reported comparable findings in a study of
fast-food restaurant managers regarding their previous
experience with individuals with mental disabilities, their
attitudes toward hiring them, and their opinions about their
place in society.
In another study, drawing from a
sample of Fortune 500 companies, McFarlin et al. (1991) found
that the more exposure respondents had with employees with
disabilities in their own workforce, the more positive their
reported attitudes. Two studies that focused on employers'
attitudes and preferences for hiring individuals with severe
disabilities reported similar findings (i.e., Levy, Jessop,
Rimmerman, & Levy, 1992; Levy et al., 1993) in that employers
who had previous positive experiences with individuals with
severe disabilities, or workers with severe disabilities,
reported more favorable attitudes toward individuals with severe
disabilities in the workplace. The results were similar despite
differences in the samples. One sample was composed of
predominantly smaller employers located in a limited geographic
area (Levy et al., 1993), and the other was a national sample
composed of Fortune 500 companies with a majority of the
businesses employing more than 1,000 employees (Levy et al.,
Data for the previous studies
were collected from employers prior to the implementation of the
employment regulations of the ADA. The results of a study of
employers conducted after the full implementation of the
employment provisions of the ADA revealed results that
conflicted with previous findings in this area. In conducting
rice-to-rice interviews with 170 randomly selected employers
located in a large metropolitan area, researchers failed to
identify a relationship between employers' previous experience
with hiring individuals with disabilities and attitudes toward
individuals with disabilities in the workforce (Kregel &
Tomiyasu, 1994). Regardless of previous experience with persons
with disabilities, the employers reported favorable attitudes
toward individuals with disabilities in the workforce.
Size of Employer
Many suggest that there is an
increased likelihood of larger employers being more conducive to
including persons with disabilities in their workforce because
of the variety of jobs available as well as their greater
personnel and economic resources (Blanck, 1998; Collignon, 1986;
Kemp, 1991). Yet, findings in the area of employer size and
perceptions of persons with disabilities have been fairly
inconsistent. The results of research conducted prior to the
implementation of the ADA indicate that larger employers
typically hold more favorable attitudes toward individuals with
disabilities in the workforce (e.g., Gade & Toutges, 1983;
Greenwood & Johnson, 1987; Levy et al., 1992; Levy et al.,
Research conducted after the
implementation of the ADA failed to identify a relationship
between employer size and attitudes toward individuals with
disabilities in the workforce (Ehrhart, 1994; Kregel & Tomiyasu,
1994). For example, in a national study of employers' attitudes
toward persons with disabilities across size and industry, no
relationship was established between size of employer and
attitudes toward workers with disabilities (Ehrhart, 1994).
Regardless of the size of business, employers reported favorable
attitudes toward persons with disabilities in the workforce.
Research utilizing the same instrumentation as the measures used
in Ehrhart's study also found no relationship between employer
size and attitudes toward persons with disabilities (Kregel &
Sector of Business or Industry
Similar inconsistencies have been
found in investigations of the relationship between the type of
industry and employer attitudes toward persons with disabilities
in the workforce. Findings from studies conducted both prior to
and after the implementation of the ADA's employment regulations
failed to confirm a relationship between type of industry and
employer attitudes toward hiring persons with disabilities (Ehrhart,
1994; Gade & Toutges, 1983; Kregel & Tomiyasu, 1994).
Yet, more recent studies have
produced mixed findings. For example, employers representing
eight types of industries differed on their perceptions of
workers with psychiatric disabilities (Diksa & Rogers, 1996).
Social services workers differed from those in the
transportation, utilities, and communication industries on
scores on the symptomatology subscale (i.e., symptomatic and
behavioral manifestations of the psychiatric disorder and the
effects of medication), administrative concerns, and work
performance. For instance, employers in the social service
industry expressed lower levels of concern with such
characteristics as an employee's lacking enthusiasm, exhibiting
bizarre behaviors, and having a poor memory than employers
representing other industries. Yet, Nietupski et al. (1996) and
Thakker (1997) were unable to identify a significant
relationship between type of industry and attitudes toward
workers with disabilities.
Findings from a series of
investigations of the experiences of one employer in the
chemical manufacturing industry with workers with disabilities
reported favorable results regarding their contributions. In
1958, DuPont conducted its first in a series of investigations
to assess the job performance of workers with disabilities in
comparison with those without disabilities. Findings from the
initial investigation indicated that DuPont supervisors
generally rated their workers with disabilities as as good as or
better than nondisabled employees on measures of safety,
attendance, and job performance. In many areas, such as safety,
motivation, and job performance, supervisors reported that
workers with disabilities performed better than those without
The results also demonstrated
that hiring persons with disabilities did not contribute to an
increase in compensation costs or lost-time injuries and that
most employees with disabilities required no special
arrangements. Yet, if modifications were necessary, they
generally involved minor adaptations. Since the findings from
the initial study were revealed, supervisors participating in
studies conducted in 1973, 1981, and 1990 have continued to
depict DuPont's employees with disabilities as safe, productive,
and dependable workers. Interestingly, the DuPont study has not
been conducted since the ADA employment regulations have been in
Although numerous studies have
investigated different organizational or worker variables that
affect employer perceptions of persons with disabilities, the
results have generally been inconsistent. Employers have
unfounded concerns about workers with disabilities in many
areas, including productivity, absenteeism, turnover, and
interpersonal situations on the job, and unfounded fears about
costs, including accommodations and increases in insurance
rates. These concerns are unfounded in that many respondents are
surveyed about their perceptions of persons with disabilities
and may not have had direct experience working with or
supervising employees with disabilities.
In contrast to myths and
stereotypes, employer ratings have indicated that workers with
disabilities have average or above-average performance (Blanck,
1998; Du Pont, 1993), safety records (Blanck; Du Pont; Shafer et
al., 1987), and attendance (Blanck; Du Pont; Shafer et al.,
1987). Respondents in these studies were supervisors of an
employee with a known disability and more than likely interacted
with workers with disabilities on a daily or weekly basis and so
were probably in a better position to assess overall worker
performance. Lastly, findings have consistently demonstrated
that employers who have previous experience with workers with
disabilities are more willing to hire persons with disabilities
(Diksa & Rogers, 1996; Gade & Toutges, 1983; Gibson & Groeneweg,
1986; Gruenhagen, 1982; Levy et al., 1992; Marcouiller et al.,
1987; McFarlin et al., 1991).
The perceptions of the business
community toward persons with disabilities in the workforce have
been investigated through a variety of research methodologies.
Researchers have studied employers' perceptions of persons with
disabilities predominantly by surveying employer representatives
who have the responsibility of hiring or supervising (e.g, Diksa
& Rogers, 1996; Ehrhart, 1994; Johnson et al., 1988; Levy et
al., 1993; Marcouiller et al., 1987). Samples have also
consisted of employers drawn from local (e.g., Gruenhagen, 1982;
Kregel & Unger, 1993; Phillips, 1975; Thakker, 1997) and
regional geographical areas (e.g., Blanck, 1998; Levy et al.,
1993; Petty & Fussell, 1997) as well as nationally (e.g.,
Ehrhart; Levy et al., 1992; McFarlin et al., 1991). Methods for
collecting data have included mail surveys (e.g., Fuqua et al.,
1984; Gade & Toutges, 1983), where findings often revealed low
return rates in comparison to research utilizing telephone
(e.g., Diksa & Rogers, 1996) or face-to-face interviews (e.g.,
Johnson et al., 1988; Kregel & Unger, 1993), which often
reported higher participation rates.
These variations in research
design have produced inconsistent findings in that factors
identified as benefits in one study may be expressed as concerns
by employers in other studies, making it difficult to compare
results and derive conclusions across studies. Yet, the results
have identified several perceived employer benefits and concerns
in hiring persons with disabilities (see Table 2). The
employer-expressed benefits and concerns of employing persons
with disabilities may have implications for makers of public
policy, employment service providers, and persons with
disabilities in addressing the labor force participation of
persons with disabilities. The following section reviews prior
methodologies used to investigate employer perceptions of
persons with disabilities in the workforce and summarizes key
findings and implications of employer attitudinal research.
Type of Research
Researchers have primarily
utilized quantitative research designs to investigate employer
perceptions of persons with disabilities in the workforce (e.g.,
Ehrhart, 1994; Levy et al., 1992; Nietupski et al., 1996; Shafer
et al., 1987). Of the 24 studies reviewed, only Pitt-Catsouphes
and Butterworth (1995) reported findings resulting from
qualitative data collection strategies. Using separate focus
groups of supervisors of workers with disabilities, coworkers,
and human resource professionals, they identified factors that
facilitated or inhibited the employment of individuals with
Existing findings derived from
quantitative research on employers' attitudes toward persons
with disabilities most often resulted from descriptive or
correlational research. Several of the reviewed studies
investigated employers' perceptions across various combinations
of factors (Blanck, 1998; McFarlin et al., 1991; Shafer et al.,
1987; Thakker, 1997). These variables can generally be
categorized in three areas: organizational characteristics,
respondent characteristics, and worker characteristics. Commonly
analyzed organizational characteristics include such factors as
type of industry, size of workforce, and geographic location of
business. Respondent characteristics are attributes of the
organizational representative being surveyed or interviewed,
such as job title, previous experience or contact with persons
with disabilities, length of time with the organization, level
of educational obtainment, and gender. Worker characteristics
focus on factors associated with a person with a disability,
such as type and severity of disability, gender, and job title.
Although all of the studies
provide descriptive statistics, only a limited number completed
analyses using inferential statistical procedures. In some
instances, this shortcoming can be attributed to data collected
from a limited number of employers, rendering a number of
statistical procedures inappropriate. Additionally, there is
very little commonality across studies in terms of the type of
variables that are investigated. Eleven studies have
investigated a specific disability (e.g., Blanck, 1998; Diksa &
Rodgers, 1996; Gade & Toutges, 1983; Gibson & Groeneweg, 1986;
Gruenhagen, 1982; Marcouiller et al., 1987; Minskoff et al.,
1987; Olson et al., 2000; Phillips, 1975; Shafer et al., 1987;
Shafer, et al., 1988); others have studied a number of different
disabilities (e.g., Fuqua et al., 1984; Johnson et al., 1988) or
referred to persons with disabilities in general (McFarlin et
al., 1991; Levy et al., 1993; Ehrhart, 1994). Outcomes from
research in which the relationship between the same variables
has been analyzed have also produced conflicting results across
studies. For instance, a number of studies reported mixed
findings in examining the relationship between employer size and
attitudes toward persons with disabilities (Ehrhart; Gade &
Toutges; Kregel & Tomiyasu, 1994; Levy et al., 1993; Nietupski,
et al., 1996).
Inconsistent findings can also be
attributed to variations in the areas from which samples were
drawn, as well as in procedures used to gather data. In the vast
majority of the studies, mail surveys were the predominant
method utilized in gathering data. A limitation with the use of
mail surveys is the low response rates generally reported in
employer research using this data collection technique. In many
instances, the findings from the reviewed research indicated
that mail surveys conducted with businesses and organizations in
limited geographical areas (e.g., Shafer et al., 1987; Thakker,
1997) reported much higher return rates than research utilizing
mail surveys with national samples of employers (e.g, Ehrhart,
1994; Olson et al., 2000). The response rates for findings from
regional samples of employers ranged from 6.2% (Levy et al.,
1993) to 61% (Thakker), and the response rates for national
samples of employers ranged from 6% (Olson et al.) to 38% (McFarlin
et al., 1991). Furthermore, very few studies that utilized mail
surveys reported any characteristics of nonrespondent data.
Overall, researchers utilizing
telephone surveys experienced greater success in gathering data,
as they frequently reported much higher participation rates in
comparison to those for mail surveys. The findings also
indicated that the most effective method in achieving a high
participation rate was to collect data from employers through
face-to-face interviews. For example, results reported by a
limited number of researchers demonstrated high employer
participation rates when data were collected through
face-to-face structured interviews (e.g., Johnson, et al., 1988;
Kregel & Tomiyasu, 1994; Kregel & Unger, 1993). However,
conducting in-person interviews with a large number of employers
across diverse geographical areas may be extremely labor
intensive and not economically feasible.
One of the critical shortcomings
with the existing research on employers' perceptions toward
workers with disabilities is that the majority of the studies
surveyed employer representatives who were responsible for
hiring or supervising but did not necessarily have actual,
firsthand experience in working with employees with disabilities
(e.g., Diska & Rogers, 1996; Levy et al., 1993; McFarlin et al.,
1991; Olson et al., 2000). Of the 24 studies reviewed, only 7
involved samples composed of predominantly supervisors or
managers with direct experience with a worker with a disability
(e.g., Blanck, 1998; Du Pont, 1993; Kregel & Unger, 1993; Petty
& Fussell, 1997; Pitt-Catsouphes & Butterworth, 1995; Shafer et
al., 1987; Shafer et al., 1988). Results from studies that have
surveyed direct-line managers or supervisors indicated that they
were generally satisfied with the work performance of employees
with disabilities (Blanck; Du Pont; Pitt-Catsouphes &
Butterworth; Shafer et al., 1987). Furthermore, employer
representatives who had previous experience in supervising or
managing workers with disabilities expressed fewer concerns
about hiring applicants with disabilities and reported more
favorable perceptions of workers with disabilities.
Summary of Findings
Despite the identified
limitations in the methodology used by previous researchers,
several key points can be highlighted from the results of
research on employers' perceptions of persons with disabilities
in the workplace. These findings include the following:
* The type and severity of
disability may affect the extent to which persons with
disabilities are included in the workforce. For instance,
employers expressed greater concern with hiring individuals with
mental or emotional disabilities than individuals with physical
disabilities. This finding may have direct implications in terms
of the willingness of applicants or workers with "hidden"
disabilities to disclose them or request accommodations in the
workplace. Interestingly, all of the findings resulting from
research investigating employers' attitudes across different
types of disabilities were based on responses from employer
representatives who may have had little direct experience
supervising or managing workers with disabilities (e.g., Diksa &
Rogers, 1996; Fuqua et al., 1984; Johnson et al., 1988; Thakker,
* To some extent, employers
appear willing to sacrifice work performance or work quality in
exchange for a dependable employee. However, it is unclear the
extent to which other factors, such as economic and labor market
conditions or coworker perceptions, might influence an
employer's willingness to support or sustain a worker with a
disability who may be perceived as less productive.
* Employers report several
concerns surrounding the work potential of employees with
disabilities that may derive from existing myths and
misconceptions and not from their direct experiences with
workers with disabilities. These myths and misconceptions may
frequently result in an applicant or employee with a
disability's not being recognized as a "qualified employee with
a disability" under the provisions of the ADA.
* Increasingly, there appears to
be a renewed emphasis on employers' recognizing the significance
of employing workers with disabilities in an effort to enhance
their image in the community (e.g., Nietupski et al., 1996;
Olson et al., 2000), strengthen their commitment to corporate
social responsibility (e.g., Pitt-Catsouphes & Butterworth,
1995), or increase the diversity of their workforce to reflect
that of the general population.
* Relative to other employers,
employers who have previous experience with workers with
disabilities report more favorable perceptions of persons with
disabilities in the workforce and a willingness to hire persons
* An overwhelming majority of
studies of employers' attitudes toward workers with disabilities
have been conducted with managers who have the capacity to hire
or supervise. Very few studies were conducted with frontline
supervisors or employer representatives who had actual
experience supervising or evaluating the work performance of
employees with disabilities. Senior management and human
resource professionals play a pivotal role in developing and
implementing business policies and practices directed toward
integrating persons with disabilities into the workforce. Yet,
first-line supervisors may be called upon to assess worker
performance and to address potential support needs of workers
with disabilities. Additionally, supervisors' desire and ability
to integrate and support persons with disabilities in the
workforce is influenced by the extent to which (1)
organizational responses and practices match formal policies;
(2) visible activities or business strategies reflect a
commitment to include persons with disabilities in the
workforce; and (3) senior management embraces values and
strategies that include a commitment to including and retaining
persons with disabilities in the workforce (Blaser, 1999;
Thakker, 1997). Future research efforts need to be directed at
both corporate or senior management and direct-line supervisors.
Employers have identified both
benefits and concerns regarding the employment potential of
persons with disabilities. Prior experience with workers with
disabilities tends to produce more favorable perceptions and a
willingness to hire persons with disabilities. However, although
a majority of employer representatives may agree with the idea
of hiring people with disabilities, this agreement may not
transfer to a willingness of employers to consider people with
disabilities as job applicants for their own company (Gibson &
Groeneweg, 1986). Also, many business executives believe that
more should be done in their company and in others to integrate
people with disabilities into the workforce (McFarlin et al.,
Perhaps there has not previously
been a time in history in which prosperous economic conditions,
emerging technology, and progressive disability-related
legislation coexisted to generate the most promising employment
outlook for persons with disabilities. Employers are
increasingly faced with managing a diverse workforce, and many
have strengthened their efforts in the area of corporate social
responsibility. The employment experiences of persons with
disabilities during this time may provide an indication of the
extent to which employer attitudes present significant barriers
to the employment of millions of Americans with disabilities
desiring to participate in our nation's labor force.
Balser, D. B. (1999).
Implementing new employment law: A contested terrain (Doctoral
dissertation, Cornell University, 1999). (University Microfilms
Blanck, P. D. (1998). The
Americans with Disabilities Act and the emerging workforce:
Employment of people with mental retardation. Washington, DC:
American Association of Mental Retardation.
Bureau of National Affairs.
(2000). Human resources priorities and outlook [Online].
Available: http://www.shrm.org/bna. hroutlook.asp
Collignon, F. C. (1986). The role
of reasonable accommodation in employing disabled persons in
private industry. In M. Berkowitz & M.A. Hill (Eds.), Disability
and the labor market: Economic problems, policies, and programs
(pp. 196-291). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.
Diksa, E., & Rogers, S. E.
(1996). Employer concerns about hiring persons with psychiatric
disability: Results of the Employer Attitudes Questionnaire.
Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 40(1), 31-44.
Du Pont de Nemours and Company.
(1993). Equal to the Task II: 1990 Du Pont Survey of Employment
of People with Disabilities. Wilmington, DE: Du Pont de Nemours
Ehrhart, L. M. (1994). A national
survey of employer attitudes towards persons with disabilities
(Doctoral Dissertation, Virginia Commonwealth University, 1994).
Dissertation Abstracts International, 54, K4402.
Fuqua, D. R., Rathburn, M., &
Gade, E. M. (1984). A comparison of employer attitudes toward
the worker problems of eight types of disabilities. Vocational
Evaluation and Work Adjustment Bulletin, 15(1), 40-43.
Gade, E., & Toutges, G. (1983).
Employers' attitudes toward hiring epileptics: Implications for
job placement. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 26(5),
Gibson, D., & Groeneweg, G.
(1986). Employer receptivity to the developmentally handicapped:
When "yes" means "no." Canada's Mental Health, 34(2), 12-16.
Greenwood, R., & Johnson, V. A.
(1987). Employer perspectives on workers with disabilities.
Journal of Rehabilitation, 53(3), 37-45.
Gruenhagen, K. A. (1982, Fall).
Attitudes of fast food restaurant managers towards hiring the
mentally retarded: A survey. Career Development for Exceptional
Individuals, 5, 98-105.
Hunt, H. A. (1999, Fall).
Institute research and public policy on disability. W.E. Up-john
Institute for Employment Research, 6(2), 2-3.
Johnson, V. A., Greenwood, R., &
Schriner, K. F. (1988). Work performance and work personality:
Employer concerns about workers with disabilities.
Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 32, 50-57.
Kemp, Jr., E. J. (1991).
Disability in our society. In C. L. Weaver (Ed.), Disability and
work: Incentives, rights, and opportunities (pp. 56-60).
Washington, DC: AEI Press.
King, A. (1993). Doing the right
thing for employees with disabilities. Training and Development,
Kregel, J., & Tomiyasu, Y.
(1994). Employers' attitudes toward workers with disabilities.
Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 4(3), 165-173.
Kregel, J., & Unger, D. (1993).
Employer perceptions of the work potential of individuals with
disabilities: An illustration from supported employment. Journal
of Vocational Rehabilitation, 3(4), 17-25.
Lee, R. R., Rusk, H. A., White,
P. D., & Williams, B. (1957). Cardiac rehabilitation:
Questionniare survey of medical directors in industry. Journal
of the American Medical Association, 165, 787-791.
Levy, J. M., Jessop, D. J.,
Rimmerman, A., Francis, F., & Levy, P. H. (1993). Determinants
of attitudes of New York State employers towards the employment
of persons with severe handicaps. Journal of Rehabilitation, 59,
Levy, J. M., Jessop, D. J.,
Rimmerman, A., & Levy, P. H. (1992). Attitudes and practices
regarding the employment of persons with disabilities in Fortune
500 corporations: A national study. Mental Retardation, 50(2),
Louis Harris & Associates.
(1998). The N.O.D./Harris Survey Program on Participation and
Attitudes: Survey of Americans with Disabilities. New York:
Louis Harris & Associates.
(1994). N.O.D. Harris Survey of Americans with Disabilities. New
Marcouiller, J. A., Smith, C. A.,
& Bordieri, J. A. (1987). Hiring practices and attitudes of
foodservice employers toward mentally retarded workers. Journal
of Rehabilitation, 53(3), 47-50.
McFarlin, D. B., Song, J., &
Sonntag, M. (1991). Integrating the disabled into the work
force: A survey of Fortune 500 company attitudes and practices.
Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 4(2), 107-123.
Minskoff, E. H., Sautter, S. W.,
Hoffmann, F. J., & Hawks, R. (1987). Employer attitudes toward
hiring the learning disabled. Journal of Learning Disabilities,
Nietupski, J., Harme-Nietupski,
S., VanderHart, N. S., & Fishback, K. (1996). Employer
perceptions of the benefits and concerns of supported
employment. Education and Training in Mental Retardation and
Developmental Disabilities, 31(4), 310-323.
Olshansky, S., Friedland, S.,
Clark, R. J., & Sprague, H. B. (1955). A survey of employment
policies as related to cardiac patients in greater Boston. The
New England Journal of Medicine, 253, 506-510.
Olshansky, S., Grob, S., &
Malamud, I. T. (1958). Employers' attitudes and practices in the
hiring of ex-mental patients. Mental Hygiene, 42, 391-442.
Olson, D., Cioffi, M. A.,
Yovanoff, P., & Mank, D. (2000). Employers' perceptions of
employees with mental retardation. Manuscript submitted for
Petty, D. M., & Fussell, E. M.
(1997). Employer attitudes and satisfaction with supported
employment. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental
Disabilities, 12(1), 15-22.
Phillips, G. B. (1975). An
exploration of employer attitudes concerning employment
opportunities for deaf people. Journal of Rehabilitation of the
Deaf, 9(2), 1-9.
Pitt-Catsouphes, M., &
Butterworth, J. (1995). Different perspectives: Workplace
experience with the employment of individuals with disabilities.
Rehabilitation Research and Training Center: Promoting the
employment of individuals with disabilities. Institute for
Community Inclusion at Children's Hospital Center on Work and
Family at Boston University.
Reeder, L., & Donohue, G. A.
(1958). Cardiac employment potential in urban society. Journal
of Chronic Diseases, 8, 230-243.
Shafer, M. S., Hill, J., Seyfarth,
J., & Wehman, P. (1987). Competitive employment and workers with
mental retardation: Analysis of employers' perceptions and
experiences. American Journal of Mental Retardation, 92(3),
Shafer, M. S., Kregel, J., Banks,
P. D., & Hill, M. (1988). An analysis of employer evaluations of
workers with mental retardation. Research in Developmental
Disabilities, 9, 377-391.
Smith, B. (1992). That was then,
this is now. HR Focus, 69, 3-4.
Thakker, D. A. (1997). Employers
and the Americans with Disabilities Act: Factors influencing
manager adherence with the ADA, with specific reference to
individuals with psychiatric disabilities (Doctoral
Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1997). Dissertation
Abstracts International, 58-03A, 1116.
Walters, S. E., & Baker, C. M.
(1995). Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act: Employer
and recruiter attitudes toward individuals with disabilities.
Journal of Rehabilitation Administration, 20(1), 15-23.
Funding for this manuscript was
provided by grants (No. H133B950036 and No. H133N950015) from
the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research
(NIDRR) with the U.S. Department of Education.
Darlene D. Unger, MEd, is a
research associate with Virginia Commonwealth University's
Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Workplace
Supports. She has been employed with the VCU-RRTC for the past
12 years and has coordinated demonstration projects focusing on
the use of natural supports to assist persons with severe
disabilities in becoming completely employed. Her
research-related activities have focused on employer attitudes
toward hiring persons with disabilities and work supports for
persons with disabilities. Address: Darlene D. Unger, VCU-RRTC
on Supported Employment, 1314 West Main St., Richmond, VA