Survey's results may help make the workplace a better place for employees with disabilities

A new survey of human resource managers has found that companies' health, life and disability insurance costs rarely rise because of hiring employees with disabilities, but that attitudinal stereotypes about people with disabilities are still pervasive in the workplace, causing them to be hired less and fired more than workers without disabilities.

The survey was conducted by Cornell University's Program on Employment and Disability and other research groups. Most HR professionals surveyed also reported that:

  • heir companies now have disability management programs and that such programs really help the companies comply with ADA regulations;
  • the best way to combat attitudinal stereotypes toward workers with disabilities is through visible commitment to change by top management and through training;
  • it isn't difficult to adapt training and working materials to accommodate employees with disabilities;
  • a continuing barrier for employees with disabilities is supervisors' lack of knowledge about which workplace accommodations to make for those employees.

Other significant results:

  • In general, large and medium-sized organizations provided accommodations for employees with disabilities more often than smaller organizations did. Few companies overall -- less than 29 percent -- offered such staples as modified training and testing materials for people with disabilities, and only 34 percent changed supervisory methods to accommodate employees with disabilities. However, 80 percent of the HR managers' companies made changes to existing facilities and adopted more flexible HR policies to accommodate employees with disabilities.
  • Respondents reported being least familiar with how to accommodate applicants and employees with visual or auditory impairments. Almost half of the respondents were not familiar with teletypewriters -- TTYs -- or relay services; more than half were unfamiliar with adapting print materials or using a reader to assist the learning disabled and vision impaired. More than half welcomed more information, however, especially on how to accommodate employees with mental health problems.
  • A full 87 percent of the respondents said that insurers did not deny health, life and long-term disability coverage to company employees or dependents with disabilities nor were the policies subject to limitations or exclusions. Eighty-one percent of the respondents reported that their organizations never had an insurer refuse coverage to employees or dependents with disabilities, limit their coverage or exclude them from coverage; only 5 percent of those surveyed reported that insurers denied some benefits to employees with disabilities, with another 13 percent of those surveyed unsure whether benefits had ever been denied.
  • While wrongful firing was cited as the claim most frequently filed against employers by people with disabilities, encouragingly 71 percent of the respondents reported that their company had a grievance or dispute resolution process for dealing with disability and accommodation issues.
  • Also encouraging, 78 percent of the respondents said that their organization had a formal or informal disability management program and that it contributed to ADA implementation.

Collaborating with the Cornell group were researchers with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the Lewin Group and the Washington Business Group on Health. The four-year grant that is funding the study was awarded by the U.S. Department of Education's National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

About 1,400 randomly selected members of SHRM in small, medium-size and large U.S. organizations were surveyed by telephone. The response rate was 73 percent, with 43 percent of the respondents working at organizations of fewer than 500 employees and 32 percent working at organizations of 2,500 employees or more.

Susanne M. Bruyère, principal investigator with Cornell's Program on Employment and Disability, says she hopes the survey's results will be a first step in educating employers. For more information about the survey and the program contact Bruyre at: 106 ILR Extension Building, Ithaca, N.Y. 14853-3901; telephone: (607) 255-7727; fax: (607) 255-2763; TTY: (607) 255-2891; e-mail: smb23


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