Perceived Reasonableness of Employment Testing Accommodations for Persons with Disabilities

By Styers, Bridget A.; Shultz, Kenneth S. | Public Personnel Management, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Perceived Reasonableness of Employment Testing Accommodations for Persons with Disabilities


Styers, Bridget A., Shultz, Kenneth S., Public Personnel Management


The intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities by making it illegal to discriminate against an individual with a disability. Title I of the ADA bars employers from engaging in actions that discriminate against disabled individuals. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations that permit disabled individuals to compete for, work, and advance in their careers. (1) "In general, an accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities." (2) Reasonable accommodation for known physical or mental limitations of a qualified applicant must be provided for testing and selection procedures unless the organization can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose undue hardship on the business. (3) Reasonable accommodations with regard to pre-employment testing may include alternate means of test administration, extending the time allowed for testing completion, or changing the content of questions. (4)

Many factors influence employment decisions, some of which are subject to misconceptions, stereotypes, and myths. As a result, the ADA may be able to protect against the discriminatory behaviors of employers. Controlling negative attitudes is more difficult, however. (5) Despite the enactment of the ADA, employment rates for persons with disabilities have not increased as drastically as anticipated. (6)

Most private sector organizations do not have sufficient numbers of disabled applicants to perform meaningful analyses of the impact of accommodations on the psychometric characteristics of employment tests. (7) The federal government and the Educational Testing Service have performed the majority of research into the psychometric properties of modified tests. (8)

What the ADA does not directly dictate, and what testing experts can only recommend, is what makes an accommodation "reasonable." That determination is ultimately left up to the employer. The employer's discretion can be influenced by many factors, such as the culture of the organization, the actions of management, and the attitudes of organizational members. However, Dianna Stone and Adrienne Colella (9) have developed a model of factors thought to affect the treatment of disabled individuals within an organization. Stone and Colella's model includes organizational characteristics (e.g., technology, organizational design, norms and values, policies and practices), attributes of the disabled individual (e.g., nature of the disability, gender, race, social status, interpersonal style), attributes of observers such as co-workers and supervisors (e.g., demographics, personality, previous contact with disabled individuals), nature of the job (e.g., ability requirements, reward system), psychological consequences for observers (e.g., stereotyping, expectancies, affective states), and observers' job related expectations, with all these leading to the observers' treatment of the disabled individual and the responses of the disabled individuals.

Unfortunately, Stone and Colella's model has not been extensively tested. A study performed by Honig and Gilliland (10) addressed the influence of disabled employees' attributes on the reasonableness of accommodations in general, but it did not address pre-employment testing accommodations specifically. Given the current paucity of research on this topic, the attitudes of organizational members toward disabled employees, and potential employees, clearly merits further research. Specifically, the research by Honig and Gilliland's needs to be extended to examine how the attributes of disabled job candidates influence the perceived reasonableness of accommodations in employment selection tests. This was the main purpose of the present study.

Stone and Colella's model, (11) described above, integrates previous theory and research into a framework that helps employers, test developers, and researchers better understand the factors that influence how disabled persons are perceived and treated in employment settings. …

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Perceived Reasonableness of Employment Testing Accommodations for Persons with Disabilities
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