The fight for people with disabilities to find work


The job market in 2015 is a hard market to break into no matter what your field happens to be. These days, college grads accept their diploma and then are excited to use the knowledge and degree they have worked hard for years to earn. But for those graduates with disabilities, it can be harder to find a job.

Study Finds Discrimination

A study conducted earlier year by Rutgers University and Syracuse looked at discrimination related to disability. The researchers sent out 6,016 fake applications for advertised openings for accounting positions. All the fictional applicants were qualified for the jobs that they had applied for. Half of the jobs were entry level jobs while the other half were for higher level positions. In one third of cases, the applicants disclosed a diagnosis of Asperger’s, another third said they had a spinal cord injury and the remainder revealed no disability.

Overall, the study found that 26% of people with disabilities were less likely to be considered for a position than a person without a disability. The study found that responses did not differ based on the type of disability that a person had but the size of the organization. Organizations with less than 15 people were less likely to hire someone with a disability. In addition, the study found that in general no matter the size of the company, 34% of people with disabilities who applied for higher level jobs had a harder time catching the eye of an employer then those without a disability. If this study is any indication, discrimination based on a disability is still prevalent in today’s society and job market. You can find more in-depth information about the study at the following link. The Disability Employment Puzzle: A Field Experiment on Employer Hiring Behavior

To reinforce the study above, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics, in 2014, on a national level, only 17.1% of people with disabilities were employed. That is down from 17.6 percent in 2013.

Riam and Elsa’s Stories

image of Riam Dean Website:  Photo credit: Fiona Hanson/PA

The facts above can also be supported by personal stories of people with disabilities who were discriminated against in the workplace. According to a news article from 2009 by The Guardian, Riam Dean (Pictured above. photo credit: Website: Photo credit: Fiona Hanson/PA) a 22-year-old student in London, England was bullied out of her job at Abercrombie and Fitch. Riam was born without her left forearm and has worn a prosthesis arm since she was three months old. The company knew that she had a disability when they hired her and told her she could keep her sweater on. But shortly afterward, she was told that she could not wear the sweater on the sales floor as it broke the “looks policy.”

Dean talks about her experience, "A female A&F manager used the 'look policy' and the wearing of the cardigan as an excuse to hide me away in the stockroom. I knew then that I was being treated different and unfairly because of my disability.” Dean sued the company for disability discrimination.

In the United States, according to a case in El Paso, Texas from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Elsa Sallard was a Starbucks barista who happens to be a little person. She was fired three days after she was hired because her management would not give her a stepstool so that she could reach the cash register. The lawsuit that was filed contended that the coffee chain's treatment of Sallard violates the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Civil Rights Acts of 1991. Starbucks and Sallard settled for $75,000 and Starbucks agreed to provide federal anti-discrimination for its managers in the El Peso, Texas area.

Employment Resources

If your story is like Riam or Elsa’s and you have had a hard time finding a job or you have faced discrimination because of the stigma in the workplace related to your disability below are a few employment resources that may be helpful to you.

Job Search

AbilityLinks : AbilityLinks is a nationwide, web-based community where qualified job seekers with disabilities and inclusive employers meet and gain access to valuable networking opportunities.

Joyce Bender Consulting : Joyce A. Bender is the founder and CEO of Bender Consulting Services, Inc., a firm that recruits and hires people with disabilities in the public and private sectors.


Job Accommodation Network (JAN): The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is the leading source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues.

Discrimination Protection

Equip For Equality : Equip for Equality’s mission is to advance the human and civil rights of children and adults with disabilities in Illinois. Regarding employment, they provide other resources for employment discrimination and share success stories of the people they have helped. If you don’t live in Illinois, look online for your state protection and advocacy center.

Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC): The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces Federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. These laws protect you against employment discrimination.


While gaining employment for people with disabilities it is not impossible, it can sometimes be a challenge. In addition to the ones listed above, there are other resources geared toward helping people with disabilities find work. I encourage you to keep seeking out positions because someone out there will see you and see your potential. A columnist named Daniel Smrokowski, who writes a column on disability wrote an article titled ““Pushing to make workplaces more accepting of workers with disabilities.” In the article he said the following about the work place and people with disabilities and I want to leave you with the same words.
“Companies should hire those of us with special needs not just for charity but because it’s the right decision. We are individuals who each bring our individual gifts and skills to the workplace.”

Blog post by Jessica Ebersole, Access Living public affairs intern.