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National Survey Demonstrates That People with Disabilities are Striving to Work + Overcome Barriers

Americans with disabilities are striving to work and overcoming barriers to employment. This is a key finding of the 2015 Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey, the first nationally representative survey on the workplace experiences of Americans with disabilities, presented by experts today on Capitol Hill. The survey of 3,013 people with disabilities, aged 18 to 64, was commissioned by Kessler Foundation and conducted by the University of New Hampshire.

“Nearly 69 percent of those  surveyed are striving to work, defined as  working, actively preparing for employment, searching for jobs, seeking more hours, or overcoming barriers to finding and maintaining employment,“ said Rodger DeRose, President and Chief Executive Officer of Kessler Foundation. “This clearly demonstrates that people with disabilities are ready and able to contribute their talents in the workforce. By providing a better perspective on workplace experiences, this survey will help us prioritize our grant-making efforts  and refine our approach to expanding employment for Americans with disabilities.”

The survey found that Americans with disabilities who are employed work an average of 35.5 hours per week, with 60.7 percent of those working more than 40 hours per week. Other findings show that Americans with disabilities are encountering – and overcoming – barriers as they look for work. The top three barriers included the lack of sufficient education or training, the employers’ assumption that they couldn’t do the job and a lack of transportation. In the workplace, the top three barriers were getting less pay than others in a similar job, negative attitudes of supervisors and negative attitudes of coworkers. A substantial percentage of employees reported overcoming these barriers.

“The Kessler Foundation Employment Survey is the first such survey to take a rigorous in-depth look at the workplace experience of Americans with disabilities,” said economist Andrew Houtenville, Ph.D., Director of Research for the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability. “This survey highlights successes in finding and maintaining employment, instead of focusing on the disparities between people with and without disabilities and barriers to  employment. By reframing this dialogue, the survey will inform the work of policymakers and legislators and help reshape the future of employment for people with disabilities.”

Responses indicated that workers were mostly comfortable disclosing their disability when necessary and requesting accommodations. The most common accommodations were flexible schedules—also greatly valued by employees without disabilities—as well as modified job duties and addressing building accessibility.

DeRose concluded: “The survey provides key information that will aid the development of targeted strategies and programs that ignite long-term increases in workforce participation among Americans with disabilities. Efforts need to focus on improving self-advocacy, supporting family members and friends in job search efforts and educating co-workers and supervisors.”

The full report of the survey is available online at the Kessler Foundation website at

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