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What is The Relationship Between Disability Employment and Ableism?

By Carli Friedman, CQL Director of Research

People with disabilities are employed at significantly lower rates than nondisabled people despite being interested in, and capable of, working. These employment disparities reflect stereotypes about disability, ability, productivity, and performance. Disability stereotypes not only impact who is hired, but for those people with disabilities who are employed, also impact the workplace discrimination they face. For these reasons, the aim of this study was to explore the relationship between disability employment and disability prejudice in the United States. To do so, we analyzed state disability employment data and disability prejudice data from 270,000 nondisabled people across the United States.

Our findings revealed those states higher in disability prejudice had lower disability employment rates (see figure below). For example, a state whose residents are moderately implicitly (unconsciously) prejudiced against people with disabilities (0.50) on average is expected to have a disability employment rate of 39%. Whereas a state whose residents are slightly prejudiced against people with disabilities (0.20) on average is expected to have a disability employment rate of 78%.

The Relationship Between Implicit Disability Prejudice and Disability Employment Rate

graph showing that as disability prejudice goes up, disability employment rate goes down.

“The disability employment gap – the difference in employment rates of people with disabilities and nondisabled people – has existed for decades in the United States. Despite attempts to reduce employment discrimination, such as the introduction of the ADA, these disparities have gone relatively unchanged. Findings from this study revealed a relationship between disability prejudice and disability employment, wherein states with less prejudice have higher disability employment rates. Although people with disabilities could benefit from more employment services and supports, workplace accommodations are not enough. Cultures and systems must be rid of harmful disability stereotypes – ableism – to ensure people with disabilities can truly partake in their human and civil rights” (Friedman, 2020, pp. 13-14).