Some 600 million people worldwide have disabilities, reports the International Labor Organization, and many still struggle with acquiring and maintaining gainful employment. Individuals with disabilities are at disproportionate risk for unemployment and more prone to living in poverty, according to the ILO. A major contributing factor of this employment challenge could be the disadvantages a disabled person faces in the workplace and the struggles employers make to accommodate these workers’ special needs.
Individuals with disabilities all too often feel the sting of discrimination. As the ILO explains, nondisabled co-workers or even superiors might discriminate against disabled workers as a response to their fear of the unknown. This presents a disadvantage for the disabled worker himself, as he must work in a space sullied by discrimination. It also presents a challenge for the rest of the workforce, who might have to act as an intermediary between the disabled worker and those discriminating against him or, at the least, have workplace harmony disrupted by discrimination.
Particularly for individuals with physical disabilities, accessibility can be a major challenge. While legislation has made most buildings accessible to individuals with physical handicaps, disabilities may still limit the job duties these workers can perform. This creates a disadvantage for these workers, because they may not be as desirable to employers. Accessibility can also present challenges for employers, who may have to modify workspaces at their own cost to accommodate mobility impairments.
Depending upon the nature of the disability, many disabled workers can perform nearly or at the same level as nondisabled peers if given appropriate accommodations. This could include hearing amplification devices for a profoundly hard-of-hearing employee or Braille materials for a visually impaired worker. Business owners often pause to judge the reasonableness of accommodations disabled workers need prior to making hiring decisions, according to the University College of London. This can result in them passing over an otherwise qualified employee for a position as a result of the individual’s need for accommodation.
Disabilities might hinder individuals who have the mental capability to acquire a higher education in their attempts to do so, reports the Academic Network of European Disability Experts. The same disadvantages that limit the ability of an individual with a disability to get and keep employment can hurt his ability to acquire education. Individuals limited in their educational opportunities may find this a continued problem, as many workplaces are unwilling to hire those who don't meet set education credentials. These organizations might overlook an otherwise capable worker unable to acquire the necessary schooling.
- International Labor Organization: Disability in the Workplace: Employers Organizations and Business Networks
- University College of London: Supporting Disabled People in the Workplace: Guidance for UCL Managers
- The Academic Network of European Disability Experts: The labour market situation of disabled people in European countries and implementation of employment policies: a summary of evidence from country reports and research studies
Erin Schreiner is a freelance writer and teacher who holds a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University. She has been actively freelancing since 2008. Schreiner previously worked for a London-based freelance firm. Her work appears on eHow, Trails.com and RedEnvelope. She currently teaches writing to middle school students in Ohio and works on her writing craft regularly.