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Advancing Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities

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By Lauren Gilbert, Project Analyst - GSEI

Imagine if Texas’s employment rate was only 34% of its adult population.  That frightening hypothetical is actually the very real percentage of employed, working-age people with disabilities[1] (PWD), whose national population is slightly larger than Texas’s adult population.[2][3]

According to the Kessler Foundation, the difference in employment rates is not a consequence of PWD not wanting to work. In fact, a national survey of working-age PWD showed that almost 68.4% of individuals in the United States self-identified as part of what the Foundation classifies as a “striving to work” category.[4]

A population the size of Texas is a large market for any business. So why aren’t businesses taking advantage of it? Many suffer from negative preconceptions about PWD – preconceptions that are notoriously difficult to measure in opinion research because people don’t like admitting to harboring them.[5]

One frequently cited preconceptions is that the cost of accommodations –such as health insurance and workers’ compensation, and time expenditures – would be a substantial burden on the business.[6] In fact, when businesses who employ PWD are asked about the cost of their accommodations, 95% say that there was either a nominal one-time cost or no cost at all.[7] In addition, employees who have disabilities tend to require no more supervision on average than employees without disabilities.[8]

Another preconception is that PWD can’t perform certain jobs as well as people without disabilities.[9] In fact, the Kessler Foundation’s survey revealed that 36% of employed, working-age PWD reported that their employers had assumed that they could not do the job. However, notably, 32.8% also reported that they had managed to overcome that barrier.[10] In fact, in one cost-benefit analysis, job performance ratings were for practical purposes identical between employees with and without disabilities.[11]

The Global Social Enterprise Initiative (GSEI) is working to change these misperceptions through its work with the Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN) for Disability Inclusion. EARN works to “educate public- and private-sector organizations on ways to build inclusive workplace cultures…” and, “…empower them to become leaders in the employment and advancement of people with disabilities.”[12] It provides training on disability inclusion for employers – both in-person and online, one-on-one technical assistance – and serves as a clearinghouse for best practices when it comes to employment of PWD.[13] It also serves as an online educational resource that works to challenge misperceptions businesses might have about hiring PWD.

GSEI is part of a multi-year project with EARN. Our role in the project is to develop new messaging and find the best way to spread that message to as many employers as possible. To do this, we need to understand how employers think about their businesses, the challenges that they can see on the horizon, and how they think about PWD as a customer base and as employees. We also are trying to understand how businesses receive information about hiring in order to find the best pipelines to influence them.

Over the past year, we have been working on a social change model that we can implement to work through some of these barriers. We are currently testing different messages to see which ones are the most likely to convince employers to seek out further resources through the EARN website. In addition, we are working on a pilot program that works with local partners to spread EARN’s resources through different business networks.

To learn more, visit the new EARN website – – and see how PWD are a tremendous asset to businesses, from tiny start-ups to massive corporations.


[1] U. S. Census Bureau. (2014). American FactFinder: C18120: Employment Status by Disability Status: United States 5-Year Estimates.

[2] U. S. Census Bureau. (2014). American FactFinder: B21001: Sex by Age by Veteran Status for the Civilian Population 18 Years and Over: Texas 5-Year Estimates.

[3] U. S. Census Bureau. (2014). American FactFinder: C21007: Age by Veteran Status by Poverty Status in the Past 12 Months by Disability Status for the Civilian Population 18 Years and Over: United States 5-Year Estimates.

[6] Ibid.