According to the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 21.3% of U.S. adults with disabilities were employed in 2022.
That’s much lower than the 65.4% rate for persons without a disability. Even so, it’s a substantial improvement from 2021 — and an all-time high for the portion of the labor force with disabilities.
The BLS data provides several additional insights about employees with disabilities:
- Workers with a disability were almost twice as likely to be employed part time than those with no disability.
- Persons with a disability were more likely to work in service occupations than those without disabilities (19.1% as compared with 15.9%).
- 9.5% of workers with a disability were self-employed. Among those without a disability, 6.1% were self-employed.
Statistics from the BLS are based on surveys and may be prone to sampling errors. With that said, the estimates show improved employment rate for individuals with disabilities — while showing the scope of entrenched disparities in hiring practices.
Businesses have strong incentives to build a diverse workforce
In the United States and many other countries, employers are legally prohibited from discriminating against job applicants on the basis of disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other non-discrimination laws establish strong penalties for non-compliant organizations.
But according to a study performed by Rutgers University and Syracuse University, people with disabilities still face discrimination in the hiring process.
That study submitted fictional job applications to more than 6,000 advertised accounting positions. All of the “applicants" were well qualified — but those with disabilities were 26% less likely to draw expressions of employer interest than the non-disabled applicants.
Some discrimination is likely unintentional — but employers that avoid applicants with disabilities are missing an opportunity.
In a 2018 study performed by Accenture (PDF), 45 companies identified as “disability inclusion champions" performed significantly better than their competitors in their peer group. On average, those companies achieved:
- A 200% higher net income.
- 30% higher profit margins.
- 72% more productivity.
For disability advocates, those numbers aren’t surprising. A diverse workforce leads to an inclusive culture, which means more customer engagement, better brand recognition, and even lower turnover rates.
Inclusive hiring practices begin with accessible digital products
The benefits of inclusive hiring are profound. But how can employers reach a wider talent pool — including applicants with disabilities and neurological differences?
For starters, remove barriers that might prevent workers from submitting an application. An audit of Fortune 500 companies performed by Appcast found that online job applications had a 92% drop-off rate. The majority of people simply don’t complete the application process — and the rate may be higher for employees with disabilities.
When online portals aren’t accessible with screen readers (software that converts text to audio) and other assistive technologies, applicants with disabilities may not be able to complete them.
An inaccessible hiring process also sends a strong message to potential talent: “Inclusivity is not a priority for our business.” Needless to say, that’s not an ideal first impression.
WCAG can help businesses reach more talented workers
Businesses should regularly audit their digital products for accessibility barriers. This is especially important for hiring portals, which must meet the Level A/AA standards of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the international standards for digital accessibility.
WCAG addresses many of the most common barriers found in online hiring portals:
- Missing form labels and instructions, which can impact accessibility for people who use screen readers and other types of assistive technology.
- Uncontrollable time limits, which may prevent people from completing the application without getting kicked out of the portal (and losing their progress).
- Low-contrast text, which may be unreadable for applicants with vision disabilities.
- Poor keyboard accessibility, which may make forms unusable for people who use a keyboard alone (without a mouse).
Every employer has a responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations to all applicants. The best practices of WCAG can help — and make job portals more intuitive for everyone, including those without disabilities.