People with Disabilities Like MD Actively Seek Work, Overcome Barriers, Survey Finds

Margarida Azevedo, MSc avatar

by Margarida Azevedo, MSc |

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A national survey to identify how Americans with disabilities are coping with work and overcoming barriers to employment has found that, despite persistent challenges, their efforts are making a big difference.

The 2015 Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey (KFNEDS) was conducted by a multidisciplinary team of researchers at the Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability.

The 2015 survey was designed to identify the strategies and resources necessary to sustain people with disabilities in paid employment. Findings can help guide new programs and policies to improve employment outcomes for those with disabilities.

Results from the survey were published in the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation under the title, “Striving to work and overcoming barriers: Employment strategies and successes of people with disabilities.”

The study looked at how survey participants responded and explored how people with disabilities — including people with muscular dystrophy (MD) — experience barriers to finding a job, leading to poor participation in the labor force, higher unemployment rates, and more wage disparity compared with those without disabilities.

Employment outcomes for people with disabilities vary by individual characteristics as well, such as age, gender, race, ethnicity, marital status, and education.

Older people with a disability are at an increased risk for unemployment, and are more likely to be discriminated against in hiring decisions.

After studying the 2015 KFNEDS survey responses, researchers found that people with disabilities are actively engaging in job preparation and job search efforts and becoming increasingly successful at negotiating obstacles at work.

Some challenges to finding and sustaining employment include insufficient education or training, negative attitudes from coworkers, inaccurate assumptions on ability, less pay, and a lack of transportation.

Even though a significant percentage of respondents said they had experienced some of these obstacles themselves, researchers found they were also successfully and gradually overcoming them.

According to the survey, 68.4 percent of respondents are either currently working, looking for work, or have worked since the onset of their disability. More than 42 percent of respondents are currently working.

Although barriers persisted in the workplace, many were able to overcome these challenges, with 45.3 percent saying they were satisfied with their jobs, and 86.6 percent saying they felt accepted in their workplace.

“Approximately 69 percent of those surveyed are striving to work, which is defined as working, actively preparing for employment, searching for jobs, seeking more hours, or overcoming barriers to finding and maintaining employment,” Elaine Katz, of the Kessler Foundation, said in a press release.

“By focusing on the successful outcomes of job-seekers and employees with disabilities, rather than the barriers, we are reframing the discourse and adding to the growing body of knowledge on best employment practices.”

“This review highlights the strategies people with disabilities use to search for work and navigate barriers, a topic largely overlooked in contemporary disability and employment research,” said John O’Neill, PhD, also from the Kessler Foundation. “Our hope is that this information will aid in the development of targeted policies and programs that foster long-term increases in workforce participation among Americans with disabilities.”

Related to this article, last year the Kessler Foundation also published the 2017 Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey: Supervisor Perspectives, exploring the effectiveness of practices employers use — from their perspective — to recruit, hire, train, and retain people with disabilities in their organizations.