2015 Kessler Foundation National Employment & Disability Survey: Overview

Follow the link for an updated version of this 2015 survey.

2105 National Employment & Disability Survey logo - blue, green, and orange colors

This new survey will help us gain insight into what strategies work and do not work for improving employment outcomes for this talented population.

Survey results will inform the disability field as it strives to develop innovative and sustainable approaches to improving employment opportunities.”

- Elaine E. Katz
, senior vice president of Grants and Communications

A collaboration between Kessler Foundation Center for Grantmaking and the University of New Hampshire (UNH) lead to the unveiling of the results of the Kessler Foundation 2015 National Employment and Disability Survey on Capitol Hill on June 3, 2015. Join the conversation on Twitter, using #KFSurvey15.


nTide banner depicting people with disabilities working


The survey, which was conducted by UNH, identifies strategies that Americans with disabilities use to search for work and navigate barriers, accommodations that are helpful to obtain and maintain employment, and factors that contribute to unemployment. Survey results are anticipated to play an important role in planning and policymaking in the field of disability employment.  

What is the 2015 Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey?

Kessler Foundation awarded a $499,999 Signature Employment Grant in 2014 to UNH to conduct this survey on strategies that can reduce the long-standing employment disparities between people with and without disabilities.

What is unique about the Kessler Foundation Employment Survey?

The Kessler Foundation Employment Survey is the first national survey to examine the workplace experiences of people with disabilities and identify successful strategies that people with disabilities have used to find and maintain employment.

What variables were examined by the 2015 Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey?

Questions dealt with experiences in 6 key categories:  Striving for Work; Preparing for Work; Searching for Jobs; Overcoming Barriers in the Job Search; Overcoming Barriers in the Workplace; and Workplace Accommodations.

What are some of the major findings of the 2015 Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey?

The survey revealed that more than 68 percent of people with disabilities are striving to work. Striving to work encompasses a spectrum of work-related activities, including actively preparing for employment,searching for jobs
, having a job, and looking for more hours. Importantly, Americans with disabilities are also overcoming barriers to employment, such as not enough education or training, employers assuming that they cannot do the job, lack of transportation, and family discouragement. While there is more work to be done, this is a positive step towards improved employment outcomes for people with disabilities. For more information, read the executive summary or full report.

Why is the Kessler Foundation Employment Survey important?

This national and scientifically rigorous survey identifies the innovative ways that individuals with disabilities strive to work and overcome obstacles to employment. These results reframe the national discourse on disability and the workplace, focusing on the overcoming of barriers, rather than emphasizing the employment gap between people with disabilities and the general population.  

How will the results of the Kessler Foundation Employment Survey be used?

The survey offers important new information and data to the disability field, legislators, researchers, and the public. The reframing of our national discourse will engender new priorities, policies, and programs for increasing the participation of individuals with disabilities in our workplaces.

How was the Kessler Foundation Employment Survey conducted?

The UNH-Institute on Disability and the UNH Survey Center conducted a household telephone survey using landline and cell phone random digit dial of 3,013 adults with disabilities, ages 18-64, who live in communities throughout the United States.   The 50-question survey took approximately 15-17 minutes to complete.

What other work is Kessler Foundation doing to examine the employment environment for people with disabilities?

Since March 2013, Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD) have been comparing the employment environment for Americans with and without disabilities in National Trends in Disability Employment (nTIDE). The custom report, which is released monthly in conjunction with the Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report, is authored by John O’Neill, PhD, Director of Employment and Disability Research at Kessler Foundation, and Andrew Houtenville, PhD, Associate Professor of Economics at UNH-IOD. While the labor force participation rate has improved during the first half of 2015, employment gaps still remain between Americans with and without disabilities.

What is Kessler Foundation?

Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research that seeks to improve cognition, mobility, and long-term outcomes, including employment, for people with neurological disabilities caused by diseases and injuries of the brain and spinal cord. Kessler Foundation leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities. Kessler Foundation and UNH issue National Trends in Disability Employment (#nTIDE), a custom monthly report that compares employment data for people with and without disabilities.