Employment Issues for People with Disabilities
The majority of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are either unemployed or underemployed, despite their ability, desire, and willingness to work in the community.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) regularly reports that the percentage of working-age people with disabilities in the labor force is about one-third that of persons with no disability. On average, workers with disabilities face significant gaps in pay and compensation, compared to workers with no disability. Additionally, about one in three employment discrimination charges filed with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission allege discrimination on the basis of disability (often, in combination with charges of other types of discrimination).
The Arc’s own research suggests that the employment picture for people with I/DD may be even more challenging. In 2010, The Arc conducted a national online survey, called the FINDS Survey, to obtain perceptions of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families on a range of life-span issues. Over 5,000 people participated in the survey. Only 15% of FINDS survey respondents reported that their family member with an intellectual and/or developmental disability was employed. These findings reflect other current statistics that highlight the low rates of integrated, competitive employment by people with I/DD.
As reported by the BLS, people with disabilities who are not employed report many (and often multiple) barriers to employment. Public policy to increase employment in the community alongside people without disabilities and earn competitive wages must address these barriers in a number of key areas. These include promoting best practices, school-to-work transition, training and supports (for both people with I/DD and staff of employment and school-to-work programs), and employment training and service systems enhancements including adoption of “Employment First” approaches. As noted in The Arc’s position statement, requirements related to employment include:
- Opportunities for post-secondary education, including college and vocational training, to gain knowledge and skills to allow people to get better jobs.
- Ongoing planning to promote job advancement and career development.
- Fair and reasonable wages and benefits.
- Opportunities for self-employment and business ownership.
- Opportunities to work with and, in the case of people with I/DD who own small businesses, employ people without disabilities.
- The ability to explore new directions over time and, at the appropriate time, retire.
- Opportunities to work and increase earnings and assets without losing eligibility for needed public benefits.
The Arc’s Legislative Agenda includes many recommendations for increasing employment by people with I/DD.