Demand-Side Employment Placement Models for Persons with Disabilities
By Fong Chan, PhD
Full inclusion of people with disabilities in society including employment is a goal endorsed by many rehabilitation and healthcare professionals including members of the American Psychological Association. However, employment rate of persons with disabilities, estimated to be about 38%, is notoriously low compared to people without disabilities. The low employment problem can be partially attributed to the over-reliance of the traditional “supply-side” rehabilitation approach (i.e., focusing on personal characteristics, skills, and abilities) of helping people with disabilities secure employment. Rehabilitation researchers have begun to shift their research paradigm to emphasize the prominence of the employment demand-side models (i.e., employer demand and the interaction of employer demand/supply and the environment).
Dr. Fong Chan (the newest member of the APA Committee on Disability Issues in Psychology [CDIP]) and his collaborators (Dr. David Strauser, a professor of rehabilitation counseling at the University of Illinois and Mr. Patrick Maher, manager of the nAblement division, SPR, Inc.) recently conducted a focus group study with 20 national and international employers in Chicago and Milwaukee to examine human resources (HR) managers and hiring project managers’ perceptions of benefits and barriers of hiring and retaining people with disabilities in the workplace. Their research was supported with funding from SPR, Inc., an information technology firm in Chicago.
The results indicated that HR and project managers still have negative perceptions about people with disabilities related to their productivity, social maturity, interpersonal skills, and psychological adjustment. These managers also reported that disability is not emphasized in their company’s diversity plan; disability sensitivity training for line managers is less than adequate; and resources for recruiting people with chronic illness and disability are limited. Alarmingly, 18 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the current crop of HR and hiring managers are reporting that they are not as familiar with the ADA and reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities as they should be.
Based on results from the focus group study, Chan, Strauser, and Maher have now developed a 71-item employer survey to study a large sample of HR and hiring managers in the Great Lakes region. The aim is to triangulate the focus group study results with a large-scale survey study. Importantly, the large-scale study will allow the researchers to examine the influence of organizational level variables such as industry type, company size, geographical location, and diversity climate on HR and hiring managers’ attitudes toward hiring and retaining people with disabilities, using multi-level analysis (hierarchical linear modeling).