Study Indicates Presence of Workplace Discrimination Against People With Disabilities

It’s been 25 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities. New Rutgers research indicates employment discrimination is alive and well in New Jersey. Rutgers Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations Chair Lisa Schur and Researcher Mason Ameri conducted the study. They join NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams to talk about how it was conducted.

Schur: We constructed fake resumes, over 6,000, and one-third indicated the applicant had a spinal cord injury, and one-third indicated they had Asperger’s syndrome and one-third disclosed that they did not have a disability. This was in the cover letter and not in the resume; all the resumes were identical.

Ameri: So, we just to explore whether job applications with disabilities received fewer expressions of employer interest than those without disabilities. What we found was fairly interesting. 26 percent of people with disabilities or applicants received fewer expressions of employer interest than those without disabilities. Our applicants with high experience were the ones who didn’t get a callback, and this was mostly centralized around small sized firms.

Williams: Right, and how does this research differ from those of previous research on disability employment?

Schur: Well, there have been surveys asking employers about their attitudes and behaviors toward job applicants and employees with disabilities. But, you always have to worry that something called social desirability bias, where they’re telling you what they think you want to hear. And this way, by actually sending out resumes, you eliminate that problem.

Williams: It’s reminiscent of a famous research study done years ago, now with the identical resumes, but one has a black sounding name, and the result was that those people got fewer call backs.

Schur: Exactly, and we used that study as sort of jumping off study for our study.

Williams: How does this type of research on discrimination get at discrimination in a way that other studies couldn’t?

Ameri: Well, in terms of implications when you look at field experimentation, what we’re doing is we’re sending out mock applicants to the field. But employers don’t know that, so as they’re screening through these profiles; they’re assuming that these are tried and true applicants.

Williams: Can you extract from this information why?

Schur: Well that’s really interesting. We could not interview the employers, but we believe that there is still a lot of stigma attached to disability. And what really surprised us, as Mason mentioned, was that the experienced applicants had fewer call backs than the novice applicants. Now that goes against what we expected, because we thought that, listen, if you have a CPA; this goes for accountants positions, if you have a CPA, you have a stellar record and you have six years of experience. We thought you would do better, but we think that employers see these candidates as riskier. They would have to pay them more, and they don’t want to take that risk on. They see disability and they think that they’re going to demand an accommodation, there is going to be liability, we’re not going to be able to predict how they are going to work.

Williams: And that’s how you think it relates to the whole employment picture for people with disabilities?

Schur: We think it’s a big piece of it.

Ameri: It certainly is. Of course when we identified that small-size firms amongst our sample size of 6,016 were more likely to not give us a call back. And in terms of implications, it might just be that these small-sized firms don’t have a robust HR infrastructure, or aren’t even familiar with the American with Disabilities Act, though they’re not really mandated by the act.

Williams: What surprised you the most about this?

Ameri: Well, as far as the story itself and really the narration about the data, it’s two pronged. On one side, you see that medium and large sized firms are, for what it’s worth, abiding by the mandate, the ADA. On the flip side, it seems as though that small sized firms are more likely to commit to legal discrimination, at least that’s one implication that we can assume. As far as implications for the act, well the act is working. But perhaps, we should lower the threshold and include some of those small sized firms.

Schur: Just to clarify, can I just jump in here for one second. We found that there was a big difference between companies with less than 15 employees that were not covered by the ADA than those that had more than 15 employees, and that’s really where we saw a large difference.

Williams: What are the long term implications of this? How do you make this work for the world, if you will?

Schur: Well, there’s several things, as Mason said. One thing would be to expand coverage of the ADA so you don’t have to have that 15 employee threshold to be covered by the law. It seems as if the smaller companies aren’t even aware of what they should be doing. They might not know that they have a state law that covers them. We don’t know, but expanding coverage of the ADA would definitely be the first step.

Ameri: Well, I think it’s also a conversation of diversity, right? And how diversity matters, given the climate, in terms of just the presidential election coming up and what not. Ultimately, we need to bring diversity, as well as disability diversity to the forefront. Studies of this nature are really going to address something that we’ve known in the body of literature in the disability movement.