PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to explore occupational injustice experienced by Americans with disabilities at work. Data from the 2015 Kessler Employment Survey were used to examine the employment experiences of Americans with disabilities and to aid the creation of new policies and practices that address their job search and workplace needs. Occupational therapists (OTs) can play a key role in supporting and sustaining the employment pursuits of individuals with disabilities.
BACKGROUND: Twenty-five years have passed since the passing of the American With Disabilities Act. Yet, Americans with disabilities continue to experience several employment-related disparities. Given the multitude of factors that influence the employment outcomes of people with disabilities, current and up-to-date national information is needed to develop programs and policies to support employment pursuits of people with disabilities.
DESIGN: The 2015 Kessler Employment Survey was designed as a telephone survey of households in all U.S. 50 states. A random-digit-dial sampling frame was used to reach households with individuals between ages 18 and 64 yr and who experienced a disability. A dual sampling frame was chosen to reduce any potential noncoverage bias for households that use cell phones exclusively.
METHOD: The survey questionnaire was developed by a team of researchers in consultation with an advisory board. The screening questions included a modified version of the disability questions from the American Community Survey (ACS) and six additional questions about physical and cognitive difficulties. Subsequent sections of the questionnaire focused on employment status, health and disability onset, employment history, job search experiences, barriers at work, workplace accommodations, and strategies used to overcome barriers. Interviews were completed with 3,013 persons from a sample of 117,871 randomly selected telephone numbers between October 2014 and April 2015.
ANALYSIS: Data analyses were conducted using the Complex Samples Module of IBM SPSS. Descriptive statistics and chi-square statistics were used to examine the association between disability type and the outcomes of interest. The data were weighted to account for known biases of telephone surveys, that is, by the number of working-age adults with disabilities; number of telephone lines within households; and by respondent sex, age, race, and region of the country.
RESULTS: Findings from the survey indicate that work is very highly valued by the majority of the respondents (61%) irrespective of the type of disability. However, among job seekers and workers, occupational deprivation created by negative perceptions of employer and coworkers and lack of education or training were found to be the biggest barrier. When asked about helpful strategies, accommodations such as flexible schedule, modified job duties, and building accessibility were the most frequently reported.
DISCUSSION: OTs need to recognize the presence of structural and systemic barriers in the workplace for individuals with disabilities. There is a critical need to develop disability management strategies and interventions to empower clients to self-advocate and limit occupational injustices experienced in the workplace, especially through negative attitudes of supervisors and coworkers.
IMPACT STATEMENT: Disability management in the workplace is a new niche area for OTs. There is a critical need to build capacity of OTs to address issues related to disability in the workplace, including current employment-related legislation and policies.