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nTIDE 2015 Year-end Special Report: 2015 An Upbeat Year for People with Disabilities but Ends on a Downbeat

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National Trends in Disability Employment–2015 Year in Review

January 31, 2016. WEST ORANGE, NJ – Despite last quarter losses, 2015 was overall a good year for people with disabilities in the workplace, according to this special year-in-review edition of the Trends in Disability Employment–National Update (nTIDE) report.  Released on the first Friday of each month, the nTIDE report is a collaborative effort of Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD), to monitor the employment of people with disabilities, using the latest national data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.








Employment to Population Ratio








Labor Force Participation Rate








 For people with disabilities, two key job market indicators improved in 2015.  The average monthly employment-to-population ratio increased from 26.0 percent in 2014 to 27.0 percent in 2015, breaking a downward trend dating back to 2009, which was the first year that annual comparisons became available for people with disabilities.  In 2015, the average monthly labor force participation rate for people with disabilities was 30.5 percent, up from 30.2 percent in 2014, breaking the downward trend for this indicator, which dates back to 2009.  This is the first time that a rise in this rate was accompanied by a decline for people without disabilities (from 76.2% to 76.1%). 

 “For the first time in the official record, we are seeing improved employment for people with disabilities.  These numbers suggest that people with disabilities may finally be starting to recover from the Great Recession, from which people without disabilities started to recover in 2010,” said Andrew Houtenville, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Economics at UNH-IOD.

For people without disabilities, the average monthly employment-to-population ratio increased from 71.7 percent in 2014 to 72.2 percent in 2015, continuing the upward trend that began in 2012.

“During the first eight months of 2015, employment indicators were strikingly positive for people with disabilities compared to the overall downward trend in 2014,” noted John O’Neill, Ph.D., Director of Employment and Disability Research at Kessler Foundation. “However, this positive trajectory was not sustained during the year’s last quarter,” he noted. The downturn started in September, the first month that the monthly employment-to-population ratio was lower than it was in the corresponding month of 2014.  August was the first month with a labor force participation rate that was lower than in the corresponding month of 2014. 

Dr. O’Neill speculated, saying: “Will this downtrend continue, or will the overall positive employment trends be maintained, or even enhanced in 2016?  It is clear that work is important to Americans with disabilities. From the 2015 Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey, the majority are striving to contribute their talents in the workplace. We are interested to see how things unfold in 2016.”   

Stay tuned. The next TIDE Report will be released on February 7, 2016.

Positive elements of 2015 include:

● Two acts that benefit workers with disabilities were implemented in 2015. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) restricts sub-minimum wages in the workforce and requires career centers to be fully accessible and provide Americans with disabilities with meaningful opportunities. The ABLE Act provides for tax-free savings accounts, supporting economic empowerment and financial literacy skills for people with disabilities.

● A large scale nationally representative survey of Americans with disabilities in the workplace was released in 2015. The Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey showed that most Americans with disabilities are striving to work. Almost 70% percent are working, preparing for careers, or actively seeking to enter the workplace or advance in their careers. Moreover, they are succeeding at overcoming a range of obstacles from transportation to employer attitudes.   

● In the Kessler Foundation Survey, more than a quarter of Americans with disabilities reported a lack of transportation as a barrier to finding employment. Kessler Foundation awarded a grant to Community Options to partner with Uber Technologies for a one-year pilot project aimed at increasing the availability of wheelchair-accessible vehicles for ride-sharing options. “The Autobility project has the potential to bring a new level of independence and self-sufficiency to people with disabilities,” said Elaine E. Katz, MS, senior vice president of grants and communications at Kessler Foundation.

● Educational attainment is especially valuable to Americans with disabilities. Their gains in employment outpace those of their peers with disabilities. To build on the benefits of educational achievement, Kessler Foundation is funding College to Careers programs at four universities in the U.S. Targeted coursework, mentoring and networking support students transitioning from college to the workplace. On the high school level, Realizing Education and Advancement for Disabled Youth (READY) program is helping students with disabilities in Chicago gain access to college, employment and economic independence.

Targeted funding is supporting successful sustainable initiatives that enable large numbers of people with disabilities to contribute to our economy and their own financial independence. “Large-scale problems require large-scale solutions,” said Rodger DeRose, president and CEO of Kessler Foundation in a recent op-ed. Public-private partnerships, social enterprises and faith-based initiatives are three types of approaches we are funding that are maximizing existing resources in new ways to connect employers with the talent they need, including veterans with disabilities. 

NOTE:  The statistics in the Trends in Disability Employment – National Update are based on Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, but are NOT identical.  They are customized by the University of New Hampshire to efficiently combine the statistics for men and women of working age (16 to 64).

Trends in Disability Employment – National Update is funded, in part, by grants from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, and Kessler Foundation.

Raw numbers are available upon request.

About 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. For more information, visit

About the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire

The Institute on Disability (IOD) at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) was established in 1987 to provide a coherent university-based focus for the improvement of knowledge, policies, and practices related to the lives of persons with disabilities and their families. For information on the NIDRR-funded Employment Policy and Measurement Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, visit

For more information, or to interview an expert, contact:

Carolann Murphy, 973.324.8382;



Submitted by cmurphy on Fri, 01/29/2016 - 17:03