What caused this significant rise in employment rates across six disability sectors?
East Hanover, August 22, 2023 — Since the COVID-19 pandemic, gains in the labor market for people with disabilities have been at near all-time highs. Expert speakers at last Friday’s nTIDE Deeper Dive Lunch & Learn Webinar provided results from an in-depth University of New Hampshire research study, which took a closer look at the unprecedented surge in employment-to-population ratio among most of the six disability subgroups identified by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Possible driving factors behind this employment transformation were also explored.
nTIDE Deeper Dive Lunch & Learn Webinar is presented by Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD).
“Each of the six disability subgroup categories – hearing, vision, cognitive, ambulatory, self-care, and independent living – revealed distinct employment trajectories,” said Andrew Houtenville, PhD, professor of economics at UNH and research director of the IOD. He calculated the average employment-to-population ratio of individuals with disabilities (aged 16 to 64) for the 12-month period of April to March beginning in 2008 through 2023.
The monthly employment-to-population ratio, a key indicator, reflects the number of people in a population who are working, relative to the total number of people in that population. A 12-month average of this indicator is used to boost statistical precision. The 12-month period of April in one year to March in the next year is used to help examine employment trends before and after the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown recession.
While reviewing the composition of people with disabilities with regard to disability type, Dr. Houtenville explained, “Our analysis showed that individuals with hearing difficulties displayed an impressive 52 percent employment rate, closely followed by vision, 40.3 percent, and cognitive impairments, 31.9 percent. Meanwhile, ambulatory disabilities showed a 23.1 percent rate, and independent living and self-care disabilities followed at 14.7 percent and 11.9 percent, respectively,” he added. “People without disabilities are just now recovering and reaching previous peaks from the lockdown, hovering around the same 75.5 percent employment-to-population ratio,” Dr. Houtenville asserted.
“The question that automatically comes to mind is, ‘Why was there such a precipitous rise in employment for people with disabilities post-COVID? during and after the COVID pandemic,” asked Dr. Houtenville.
Highlighting the growing occurrence of work accommodations as a response to the pandemic, Dr. Houtenville stressed how remote work became essential and is likely to remain a fixture in the workforce, as indicated by results from the 2022 Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey.
“Work accommodations have become more prevalent, reshaping firms' policies and employers' perspectives on work arrangements. Notably, supervisors indicated that such accommodations prompted by the pandemic are expected to persist,” he explained.
Dr. Houtenville also explored other possible factors such as the impact of COVID-19 on the reporting of cognitive functions. Among individuals already in the workforce, many are still feeling the effects of COVID infections. This data analysis provided a platform for stakeholders to further investigate and address the root causes of the observed changes in employment dynamics for individuals with disabilities.
Later during last Friday’s nTIDE Deeper Dive, guest speaker entrepreneur Russell Stein, co-owner of Yantern and the director of Gallaudet Innovation and Entrepreneur Institute (GIEI), shared his views highlighting the employment gap within the deaf community and ways to take a proactive stance against this issue. As an experienced businessperson, he champions deaf entrepreneurship through innovative strategies, workshops, mentorship programs, and tailored entrepreneurship courses. “By fostering an environment of equal access to resources, we are committed to narrowing the employment gap and cultivating a culture of entrepreneurship among people in the deaf community,” said Stein.
Stein emphasized the value of incidental learning and equitable access to information for the deaf community, comparing the deaf experience to a "mouse in a maze" navigating an audio-centric world.
Stein’s and GIEI's initiatives aim to level the playing field for deaf entrepreneurs, providing them with the tools they need to succeed. Through these initiatives, they hope to reshape the narrative surrounding disability employment and empower deaf individuals to pursue their entrepreneurial aspirations.
Note on Data Collection and Language
When presenting information about disabilities, nTIDE employs the terminology found in the survey that serves as the basis for BLS data, known as the Current Population Survey (CPS).
Live Webinar on Disability and Employment
In conjunction with each nTIDE report, experts host a 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM (ET) Lunch & Learn Webinar via Zoom featuring in-depth analyses, guest speakers, and news updates from the field. Webinars include invited panelists who discuss current disability-related findings and events. On September 1, 2023, guest panelist Rylin Rogers, disability policy advisor at Microsoft Accessibility, joins John O'Neill, PhD, director, Center for Employment and Disability Research at Kessler Foundation, Dr. Houtenville, and Denise Rozell, policy strategist from the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD). All are welcome to attend our live Lunch & Learn Webinars or visit the nTIDE archives at: ResearchonDisability.org/nTIDE.
About nTIDE Updates
National Trends in Disability Employment (nTIDE) is a joint project of Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability. The nTIDE team closely monitors the job numbers, issuing semi-monthly reports that track the impact of economic shifts on employment for people with and without disabilities. As the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wane and inflation persistently rises, the nTIDE team has superseded its mid-month COVID Update to a “Deeper Dive” into the BLS data for people with disabilities.
About the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire
The Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire was established in 1987 to provide a 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 Intitute’s NIDILRR-funded Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Disability Statistics and Demographics (StatsRRTC), visit ResearchOnDisability.org
About Kessler Foundation
Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research. Our scientists seek to improve cognition, mobility, and long-term outcomes, including employment, for adults and children with neurological and developmental disabilities of the brain and spinal cord including traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and autism. Kessler Foundation also leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities.