Human Resources



5 gaps employers need to plug in developing workplaces for people with disabilities

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People with disabilities make up roughly 15% of the world’s population but much of the existing research on employment for people with disabilities focuses on employment status, with less attention paid to quality of employment and other context that may influence their work experience.

New research by Joy Beatty of the University of Michigan-Dearborn; Stephan Boehm of the University of St. Gallen; Mukta Kulkarni of the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore; Adrienne Colella of Tulane University; and David Baldridge of Oregon State University attempts to fill in key gaps in the understanding of the treatment of people with disabilities in the workplace.

The researchers reviewed 88 research studies on the treatment of people with disabilities in the workplace and identified the following five gaps to support the development of more inclusive workplaces:

  1. Clear definitions of disability. Researchers often use the term ‘person with disability’ differently and are sometimes unclear as to which group or groups their findings are applicable.
  2. Revisiting the meaning of career success. While success is often linked to promotions, people with disabilities may instead decline promotions or seek job duty modifications, employment security, work-life balance, etc. Adopting new ways to accurately measure career success can improve understanding of inclusive human resources policies.
  3. Over-reliance on limited existing data. Data on people with disabilities in the workplace can be difficult to obtain, so the available data is limited, leading to over-reliance on a few large government data sources.
  4. Lack of national context in current research, with a disproportionate focus on U.S. populations. The experience of a person with disabilities in the United States is likely to be different than that of a person living in China or India, but much of the existing research is focused on the U.S.
  5. Disability overshadows other aspects of a person’s identity. Deeper examination of individual differences and identities outside the disability itself is needed.

Beatty commented: “Disability identities coexist with other identities, creating a tapestry of gender, age, race, sexual orientation and religious affiliation. Recognising this tapestry and incorporating a more complex model of identity supports the development of more inclusive organisations.”

ALSO READ: How-to: Make workplaces more accessible for people with disabilities

Baldridge is already putting findings from this study into action. He’s currently working on a project that examines employee disability through lenses of isolation and integration to see if working in one condition has consequences for an employee’s career. He’s also looking at the connections between disability, education level and earnings to see how those three factors might relate.

“That’s an example of going beyond just a person’s employment status and looking more at the quality of their employment,” he said.

The findings were published recently in the journal Human Resource Management.

Photo / 123RF

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