Depressing Statistics on Employment of People With Disabilities

An Associated Press story yesterday included some lousy news for those with disabilities (and their advocates): The percentage of people with disabilities who are in the work force has declined in the last four years, and hasn’t changed appreciably since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed 23 years ago. According to the story (here is the Washington Post’s version), only 18% of working age Americans with disabilities are, in fact, working, compared to 63% for those without disabilities. Not reported in the article, but just as depressing, is the disability wage gap: Full-time employees with disabilities earn $6,100 less per year, on average, than full-time employees who don’t have disabilities. (You can find this figure, along with piles of other disability statistics, in the Disability Status Report.)

Conjectures about what’s still holding back employees with disabilities range from employer prejudice and outdated attitudes to compliance costs. Here’s the thing, though: Studies show that compliance with the ADA — at least in the form of providing reasonable accommodations to allow those with disabilities to perform their jobs — is not that expensive after all. In 2009, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission pulled together various statistics and studies on the cost of reasonable accommodations, as part of the process of drafting regulations to implement the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). Those studies show significant variations in the reported mean cost of an accommodation, ranging from $462 up to more than $1,400. Where the studies agree, however, is that many accommodations — the majority, in some studies — are free.

In response to reader questions and search popularity, we recently added a Reasonable Accommodations page, with articles on the right to accommodation and specific accommodations for a variety of disabilities. For detailed information on accommodations for dozens of disabilities, along with compliance assistance, check out the website of the Job Accommodation Network.