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4 Surprising Statistics About Employment for People with Disabilities

May 31, 2022

In the United States and many other countries, employers are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of disability. Unfortunately, an enormous employment gap remains between those with disabilities and those without disabilities. 

While the factors behind the employment gap are complex, digital accessibility certainly plays a role. To build inclusive work cultures — and attract the best possible talent —employers need to remove barriers that affect hiring and recruiting.

In order to address these challenges, organizations need to understand the scope of the problem. In this article, we’ll review a few key statistics and provide tips for more accessible hiring practices.

1. In 2021, 19.1% of people with disabilities were employed

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), that was a slight increase from 17.9% in 2020 (PDF). For comparison, 63.7% of persons without a disability were employed in 2021.

People with disabilities are more likely to work in production, transportation, and service occupations, and as such, they were disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, about half of all persons with a disability were 65 or older, which is about three times the share of those with no disability — but employment was lower for people with disabilities across all age groups.

2. The unemployment rate for those with disabilities is nearly twice the national unemployment rate

“Unemployment rate" identifies the number of people who are looking for a job, but are currently unemployed. In 2021, the unemployment rate for persons with a disability was 10.1%, compared with 5.1% for persons without a disability. 

The takeaway: Workers with disabilities must search for employment in a much tighter market than folks without disabilities, and they tend to make significantly less money. According to Americans with Disability Act Participatory Action Research Consortium (ADA-PARC), the median household income for U.S. adults with disabilities is $43,300, compared with a median income of $68,700 for people with no disabilities — a difference of $25,400 per year.

3. Businesses who hire people with disabilities see higher profits and more productivity

In practical terms, offering inclusive hiring resources allows organizations to draw from a wider talent pool. That’s enough of a reason to adopt an accessible mindset, but it’s certainly not the only reason.

A 2018 study from Accenture (PDF) identified 45 companies as “disability inclusion champions.” These organizations stood out in leadership in areas specific to inclusion and disability employment. On average, champions achieved”

  • 72% more productivity
  • 30% higher profit margins
  • 200% higher net income

Additionally, the study found that companies that improved their inclusion of persons with disabilities were four times more likely to have total shareholder returns that outperformed those of their peer group.

Related: Why Digital Accessibility Should Be a Priority in Employment

4. Most accommodations for employees with disabilities cost nothing

It’s true that some employees may need accommodations to perform their work, but that doesn’t dramatically increase the cost of their employment. 

A 2020 survey report from the Department of Labor’s Job Accommodation Network (JAN) found that most workplace accommodations for employees with disabilities cost absolutely nothing to implement. For the remaining accommodations, the average cost was $500. Even when employers paid substantial ongoing costs for accommodations, the vast majority of respondents were satisfied with the results.

Building More Inclusive Hiring Practices

To address the employment gap — and ensure compliance with laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — employers need to honestly analyze their current hiring practices. 

The first step: Offer accessible online resources. If people can’t submit resumes or fill out onboarding forms, you’ll miss an opportunity to attract the best candidate for each position. 

Make sure your hiring portals follow the best practices outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the consensus international standards for digital accessibility. All organizations should strive to meet WCAG Level AA guidelines.

Related: What's The Difference Between WCAG Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA?

It’s also important to prioritize accessibility as part of your organizational culture. Whether you’re recruiting, hiring, or developing new products, inclusive design has tremendous benefits, but every member of your team will need to share the same commitment. For more guidance, download our free eBook, Developing the Accessibility Mindset eBook.

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