This year the United States celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which strengthens other laws that already existed on the books to prevent discrimination against citizens who live with disabilities – particularly in the area of employment. The ADA was a complement to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent acts which made it illegal to discriminate against people based on their race, national origin, or gender. In 1990, the new addition to the law made it illegal to discriminate based on disability. Nevertheless, according to a research brief compiled by the ADA National Network, Americans with disabilities continue to experience workplace discrimination in various forms.
The research brief describes a number of different cases where people with disabilities have been excluded from certain decisions and activities in their workplaces, due to colleagues’ assumptions that these individuals are not capable or competent enough to weigh in on certain decisions or contribute as fully as other peers. Frequently, people with disabilities who are applying for jobs face the dilemma of whether to disclose their disability in their application or to do so later. Either choice frequently comes with its own set of repercussions.
To illustrate, the brief cites one case study where participants sent mock job applications, and “those who disclosed disability (either spinal cord injury or Autism) received 26% fewer expressions of employer interest than applicants that did not include a disability disclosure.” Indeed, the statistics that the US Department of Labor reported in 2019 bear out these findings, indicating the presence of hiring discrimination. While unemployment among Americans without a disability was 3.5 percent, the figure was more than twice as high for those with disabilities, at 7.3 percent. These examples demonstrate that, in spite of protections established by the ADA, corporate America still needs to take more responsibility for educating and training its hiring teams so that they can check their subconscious bias and recognize the value of hiring people with disabilities.
The hiring process is only the first obstacle that a person with a disability must confront in entering the American workforce. Even for those who successfully become employed, keeping that job and not feeling undervalued by colleagues and managers present another set of challenges. The ADA National Network’s research brief cites an additional survey in which employees with disabilities reported experiencing disadvantages at work. One third of these respondents indicated “that they had experienced negative bias in the workplace,” while 47 percent stated “that they would never achieve a leadership role in their company, regardless of their performance or qualifications.” Discouraging experiences such as these will often make individuals who live with a physical or mental condition hesitant to disclose their challenges at all, whether at the time of applying for jobs or after being hired.
Disclosing a disability in the workplace should not place an employee at risk for further stigmatization and discrimination, but too often, the lived experiences of those who have the courage to be open about their condition suggest that openness will be viewed by society as weakness. In the face of such seemingly high potential for negative consequences, then, why should employees with disabilities remain motivated to use their own experiences and knowledge to benefit themselves and others? The research brief, fortunately, also provides a promising statistic: compared to those who did not disclose, individuals who disclosed their disabilities reported feeling “more content (65% versus 27%) and less isolated (8% versus 37%) at work.” Despite all of the repercussions that may follow, I firmly believe, in accordance with this last finding, that openly divulging a disability when applying for employment or at the workplace is the right approach.
The advantages to being up front about a disability ultimately outweigh the disadvantages. For instance, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that those who have a disability receive reasonable accommodations in the workplace. Moreover, disclosing one’s own experiences opens up opportunities to educate coworkers and, in some cases, clients. During my two years of working with Apple, I once met with a client who found out that I was visually impaired and immediately questioned my ability to perform my job adequately. I explained to him that a physical limitation does not translate to incompetence or interfere with the abilities to analyze, judge, and communicate effectively. After he saw the final results of the tasks that I delivered to him, he apologized and acknowledged that interacting or working with someone with a disability was not something he fully understood. My client’s learning experience is the very reason why I believe that employers should hire more people who live with disabilities because these individuals will serve as additional assets when it comes to inspiring and educating members of society.
Posted By Wilson Charles
Posted Jul 30th, 2020
August 4, 2020
Wilson, you argue that its in one’s self-interest to be brave and disclose a disability. Very interesting and inspiring! Do you believe that the statistics are indicative of causation for the most part? Or do you think part of the difference in feelings of isolation and content could be explained by an open/accepting work environment, which makes one feel more comfortable disclosing their respective condition? I assume its a mix of causation and correlation. Like you said, having reasonable accommodations can be a game changer.
August 5, 2020
This was such an informative post Wilson! A vital issue you raised is that “compared to those who did not disclose, individuals who disclosed their disabilities reported feeling “more content (65% versus 27%) and less isolated (8% versus 37%) at work.” This really shows the necessity of all humans to feel fully themselves in order to be most happy (and therefore productive). Still, it’s startling to hear that almost half of respondents of a survey said they would not get leaderships positions even if qualified due to a disclosed disability. I think reframing how humans view a “disability” is necessary to change this (rather than relying on laws), and is something your previous blogs have certainly done. I hope your reflections reach far and wide, and people like me can change the way we encounter and confront disability day-to-day.
August 14, 2020
This is another really good blog, with plenty of important insights into the challenges that come with a disability. It’s clear that the AWD Act is not providing all of the protections that it should – and that there are many subtle ways employers can get around it. My question relates more to your other blogs, where you seem to argue that the very notion of disability should be retired and that we should be referring instead to “differences” rather than disabilities. How does this square with this appeal from you for more protections????