The Role of Psychologists in Employment and Disability Public Policy
Fifteen years after the implementation of the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ( ADA), significant employment disparities for people with disabilities remain. According to statistics from the American Community Survey (ACS), in 2006 the employment rate of working-age people with sensory, physical, mental, and/or self-care disabilities was 38.1 percent, compared to 78.3 percent for working-age people without sensory, physical, mental, and/or self-care disabilities—a gap of 40.2 percentage points (Cornell University Disability Statistics and Demographics Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, 2007).
Work is an important part of our identities. It gives us the ability to express our talents and interests, as well as build towards financial independence and contribute to society as a whole. This fundamental part of human expression, independence, and social contribution should be equitably available to all Americans. Psychologists can play a critical role in promoting equitable access to employment for people with disabilities, and in informing and advancing public policy in support of these interests.
A variety of public policies influence the employment of people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-336) prohibits job-related discrimination against people with disabilities and requires that reasonable accommodations be provided by employers for people with disabilities. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by federal agencies, in programs receiving federal financial assistance, in federal employment and in the employment practices of federal contractors. Title I of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) (P.L. 105-220) provides assistance to states interested in establishing statewide and local workforce investment systems to increase employment, retention and earnings of participants. The objectives of WIA include improving the quality of the workforce to sustain economic growth, improving productivity and competitiveness, and reducing dependency on welfare. The recent passing of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has brought awareness of the need for such national policies to a global level.
Psychologists can assist in promoting public policy in support of increasing employment outcomes for people with disabilities by keeping abreast of pending legislative and policy changes. Either as individuals or as a part of a state, regional, or national psychological association, we can create or find forums for sharing our direct-line experiences of how accommodations and related supports facilitate the successful hiring and retention of people with disabilities. In addition, we have a responsibility to inform the people with disabilities who are recipients of our services about their rights under disability nondiscrimination legislation.
Cornell University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Disability Demographics and Statistics. (2007). 2006 Disability Status Reports. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University. Retrieved May 1, 2008 from Disability Statistics: Online Resource for US Disability Statistics