Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Employers' Attitudes toward Hiring Persons with Disabilities and Vocational Rehabilitation Services

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Employers' Attitudes toward Hiring Persons with Disabilities and Vocational Rehabilitation Services

Article excerpt

While the United States economy continues to demonstrate strong growth and low unemployment, many people with disabilities are still struggling to enter the labor market (National Organization on Disability, 1998). People with disabilities often find employment difficult to attain and feel excluded from the labor market because of their disabilities (Kregel & Unger, 1993; Satcher & Dooley-Dickey, 1992). This difficulty is often traced to the attitudes of employers toward hiring people with disabilities and the environment of acceptance or non-acceptance employers create (Satcher & Hendren, 1992; Wright & Multon, 1995). The purpose of this paper is to increase our understanding of employer attitudes toward hiring people with disabilities.


Vocational rehabilitation professionals recognize the problem of employer attitudes (Thomas, Thomas, & Joiner, 1993) and note that negative attitudes are often identified as a major barrier to successful job placement. Because successful job placement and the encouragement of employers to effectively integrate people with disabilities into the workplace are central functions of vocational rehabilitation professionals (Gilbride & Stensrud, 1992; Mullins, Rumrill, & Roessler, 1996), understanding and addressing employer attitudes are imperative.

Unfortunately, identifying and addressing employer attitudes and perceptions are monumental tasks (Martin & Vieceli, 1988). Negative attitudes are kept in place by myths regarding people with disabilities as workers (Kilbury, Benshoff, & Rubin, 1992; Satcher, 1992), by ineffective rehabilitation placement methods, and by employer hiring procedures designed solely to avoid making any risky hires (Gilbride & Stensrud, 1993; Gilbride, Stensrud, & Connolly, 1992; Wiseman & Gomez-Mejia, 1998).

If rehabilitation professionals are to fulfill their responsibility to effectively serve consumers and employers, they can begin by correcting those attitudinal, perceptual, and procedural barriers that currently limit the ability of people with disabilities in attaining quality employment outcomes. Some evidence exists to suggest that if effective interventions are made, employers' receptivity toward hiring people with disabilities can be improved (Chism & Satcher, 1997; Douglas, 1994; Levy, Jessop, Rimmerman, & Levy 1992; Satcher & Hendren, 1992, Zahn & Kelly, 1995). However, in order to address employer concerns, rehabilitation professionals must have more complete and accurate data about employer needs and attitudes (Millington, Butterworth, Fesko, & McCarthy 1998).

There is also some evidence that employers consider rehabilitation professionals to be credible sources of intervention. Employers have generally favorable attitudes toward state vocational rehabilitation professionals (Gilbride & Stensrud, 1993), and would look to them for technical assistance (Greenwood, Johnson, & Schriner, 1988). However, in order for rehabilitation agencies to expand into the role of a business consultant, rehabilitation agencies must learn how to develop and maintain working relationships with employers that lead to confidence and trust (Fry, 1997).

Gilbride and Stensrud (1992, 1999) suggest rehabilitation professionals can be an essential component in this quest for equality by skillfully providing consultation services to the business sector. They assert, however, that the focus must switch from merely locating employment for persons with disabilities to addressing the work needs of the employer and demonstrating to the employer genuine concern and help toward accomplishing the employer's goal of a stable, competent work force. Unfortunately, little information exists about employers' perceptions and concerns about hiring people with disabilities.


The purpose of this study is to investigate in more depth the attitudes and perceptions of employers toward hiring people with disabilities and toward the state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency. …

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