Determinants of Attitudes of New York State Employers towards the Employment of Persons with Severe Handicaps

Article excerpt

Introduction

Even in the face of pockets of unemployment, companies at both the national and local level are experiencing a common problem of finding qualified workers and matching available workers to job openings. From the point of view of the economy, this has led to a search for new groups of heretofore untapped potential (Fernandez, 1989). From the point of view of those concerned with new roles for persons with disabilities, it provides a window of opportunity to develop employment for persons with disabilities, two-thirds of whom are presently unemployed (and especially the two-thirds of the unemployed who indicate they would work if work were available) (ICD-Harris, 1987).

In recent years, supported by federal initiatives, there has been a movement towards integrated employment in regular work situations for individuals with mental retardation. As the recent Institute of Medicine report stressed (Pope and Tarlov, 1991), the attitudes of the public, employers, and professionals are among the strongest social and environmental variables constituting barriers to the full participation in society of persons with disabilities. Thus, the success of employment efforts depends on the attitudes of employers. Without favorable attitudes on the part of these "gatekeepers", persons with disabilities may never have the opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities (Florian, 1981).

The Young Adult Institute (YAI) is conducting a program of research regarding the attitudes of employers and professionals regarding the employment of persons with disabilities. As part of this program YAI has conducted a national study of the attitudes of Fortune 500 corporate executives toward hiring persons with severe disabilities that finds favorable attitudes (cf. Levy, Jessop, Rimmerman, and Levy, 1992), but questions remain regarding attitudes of employers in regional, statewide, and local labor markets with which most rehabilitation agencies work. A study of regional and local employers adds to the program of research smaller companies that are not included in the Fortune 500 sample, as well as opening the door to types of industries present in New York State that may be typical of other local and regional labor markets that are served by other rehabilitation agencies. With these concerns in mind a statewide study was developed and conducted cooperatively by YAI and the New York State Office of Vocational and Educational Services to Individuals With Disabilities (VESID).

As with the national study the basic issue was to describe the attitudes of employers toward the employment of persons with severe handicaps, and the factors related to differences among employers in their attitudes toward the employment of persons with severe handicaps. It is important to identify types of employers who are more or less favorable in order to be able to target employer education programs and to make most effective use of job development efforts. This paper presents preliminary data illustrating the types of variation that exist among a group of employers.

Methods

Data and Method

A mail questionnaire was developed that included two attitude measures and questions about characteristics of the companies and respondent demographics. The questionnaires were addressed to the company, with the request that the form be turned over to the person responsible for hiring.

This questionnaire was sent in three mailings over the period of August-December, 1988, to a systematic sample of 7,676 companies doing business in New York State, which were over 25% of the approximately 27,000 companies of the TRINET Economic Development Data Base. The post office returned 976 questionnaires as undeliverable; 418 (or 6.2%) completed questionnaires were returned to VESID and forwarded to YAI for analysis.

The response rate was that obtained from a single mailing to each employer as resources were subsequently unavailable to conduct intensive follow-up efforts with non-respondents. …