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Dr. John O’Neill on Employing People with Disabilities

Head shot of Dr. John O'Neill, against a black background

In this episode of Kessler Foundation's podcast, we are talking with Dr. John O'Neill. He is the director of employment and disability research at Kessler Foundation and has over 28 years of experience in vocational rehabilitation as a rehabilitation counselor educator, disability employment researcher, and adviser to state vocational rehabilitation agencies.

Listen to the podcast, view the transcript and download this episode and others for free on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, Podbean, or where ever you get your podcasts.

Below is an excerpt from the conversation.

Rob Gerth: Why are people with disabilities not hired as often as other demographics?

John O’Neill: Most employers, they've been very forward in pushing the diversity agenda. But that diversity agenda has primarily focused on race, religion, gender, ethnicity, and not on disability. And as a matter of fact, the supervisors’ perspective survey that we recently did, it was a 6,000 plus supervisors across the country, asking them about their employers' practices. We found that there is a very small proportion of those companies that they work for that included disability in their diversity agenda.

RG: Can you tell us about the 2015 employment and disability survey?

JO: Well, first of all, it was a nationally representative survey. But its innovation was that it didn't only delineate the barriers that people with disabilities face in terms of finding work, getting hired, and on boarding. It also looked at how those barriers were overcome by people with disabilities. What did they do? How many of them felt they overcame those barriers? And if they did, what did they do? So that was an innovation. And it was really focused on striving to work. So the employment rate amongst people with disabilities is what, 30, little under 32%, right. While in this survey, we found that over 64% of individuals with disabilities were striving to work in one way or another. They were either looking for work or they actually held a job after the onset of their disability. And people were working, most everyone was working more than 35 hours a week. And if they weren't, they wanted to. And if they were working 35 hours a week, a good proportion wanted to work more hours. So it was trying to change the dialogue to, "Oh, look at how bad it is. Look at what all the barriers are that people with disabilities face." And it tried to change the dialogue and make it more of a striving to work as opposed to, "Oh, wait, all those poor people are unemployed."

RG: Can you give us some takeaways from the 2017 employment and disability survey?

JO: It was much more positive than what I thought it was going to be. For example, the accommodations that many supervisors were using, generally, were also effective for people with disabilities. Such as, working from home. Okay. Not all the time, but sometime. Okay. That's a common accommodation that's provided by many corporations to any employee. And the supervisors felt it was working, generally, and working for people with disabilities. So there were those general kinds of accommodations that were also being used with people with disabilities. I thought that was a positive finding. We found that some of the practices that weren't used very often, but when they were used, the supervisors felt they were extremely effective for people with disabilities. For example, collaborating with organizations in the community that have employment programs for people with disabilities. About 19% of the supervisors said that their companies were doing that. But almost 100% felt that it was effective if they were doing it. So we were confirming some of the suspicions we had about these practices that are currently being used. There's also something called a centralized accommodation fund. Many supervisors are hesitant to provide accommodations because it's going to come out of their budget, right.

RG: What’s the focus of the 2020 survey?

JO: That survey will focus on the employment of people with disabilities who have received post-secondary degrees of one sort or another. Either an associates degree or a bachelors degree or even a graduate degree and employment. There's been some research that's been done by individual universities showing that people with disabilities who get post-secondary degrees are not getting employed as readily as people without disabilities. And in some ways, if folks with disabilities who are getting graduate degrees from Berkeley -can't get employment after graduation, something's wrong with that picture.

So on the other hand, some of the national surveys done, some of the census surveys have shown that the benefit that people with disabilities get out of having a graduate degree, even though there's this-- In earnings, for example, even though there's a discrepancy between people with disabilities and people without, the bump-up that people with disabilities get from increasing degrees is greater than the bump-up that people without disabilities get. So the benefit is greater. And so let's find a way to lessen that gap between people with and without disabilities who have postsecondary degrees. Let's lessen that gap because it is definitely a benefit. It raises all boats. It's a tide that raises everyone's boat. People with and without disabilities, but those discrepancies still exist, and let's see if we can close that gap even more.


Submitted by nmiller on Tue, 09/17/2019 - 14:02