Addressing Research Gaps Could Aid in the Development of Disabled-Friendly Workplaces

According to a new assessment of disability research, closing significant gaps in research and knowledge of the treatment of persons with disabilities in the workplace might assist increase employee effectiveness on the job and promote more disability-inclusive workplaces.

Although people with disabilities account for roughly 15% of the global population, much of the existing research on employment for people with disabilities focuses on employment status, with less attention paid to the quality of employment and other factors that may influence a person’s work experience, according to David Baldridge, an Oregon State University professor of management.

Disability inclusion at work entails more than just hiring disabled persons. All workers’ strengths are valued in an inclusive workplace. It ensures that employees with visible or invisible impairments have an equal chance to thrive, learn, be properly rewarded, and develop in their careers.

“A lot of good work has been done, but the body of knowledge is still very piece-meal,” said Baldridge, who teaches in OSU’s College of Business and is an author of the study. “There are so many different potentially disabling conditions and work contexts that it is difficult to obtain data and generalize from one condition to the next.”

Example of Disability-Inclusive Workplaces

The results were just published in the journal Human Resource Management. Joy Beatty of the University of Michigan Dearborn is the principal author. Stephan Boehm of the University of St. Gallen, Mukta Kulkarni of the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, and Adrienne Colella of Tulane University are the co-authors of the study.

A lot of good work has been done, but the body of knowledge is still very piece-meal. There are so many different potentially disabling conditions and work contexts that it is difficult to obtain data and generalize from one condition to the next.

David Baldridge

Beatty, Baldridge, and their co-authors looked at 88 research studies on how people with disabilities are treated in the workplace and found a number of research gaps that could help support the development of more inclusive workplaces and improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

The inclusion of people with disabilities is also critical in the recruiting process. Companies that do not actively promote disability inclusion risk losing qualified employees.

Among the gaps:

  • Disabilities must be defined clearly. Researchers frequently use the phrase “person with a disability” in a variety of ways, and it’s not always apparent to which group or groups their findings apply.
  • Rethinking what it means to be successful in your work. While promotions are generally associated with success, persons with disabilities may forgo promotions in favor of job responsibility changes, job stability, work-life balance, and other factors. Adopting innovative methods for correctly measuring career success will help people better comprehend inclusive human resource policy.
  • Putting too much faith in the facts that is already available. Because data about persons with disabilities in the workplace is difficult to come by, the amount of data accessible is restricted, resulting in an over-reliance on a few big government data sources.
  • Current research lacks a national perspective, with a disproportionate concentration on U.S. people. Although the experience of a disabled person in the United States is likely to differ from that of a disabled person in China or India, much of the existing study is centered on the United States.
  • Other components of a person’s identity are overshadowed by disability. Outside of the impairment, a more in-depth assessment of individual characteristics and identities is required.

“Employers may treat disability as a ‘master status,’ overshadowing other aspects of identity that contribute to diversity,” Beatty said. “Disability identities coexist with other identities, creating a tapestry of gender, age, race, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation. Recognizing this tapestry and incorporating a more complex model of identity supports the development of more inclusive organizations.”

The proportion of individuals living with a handicap is predicted to expand exponentially as people live longer and work later in life, making disability employment challenges important to a far broader population of employees and employers, according to Baldridge.

“As work becomes more specialized, one issue for consideration should be to focus on what people can do and not what they can’t do,” he said. “Gains in specialized technology can help increase the impact of a person’s ability or reduce the impact of their disability.”

Baldridge is already putting the study’s results into practice. He’s now working on a project that looks at employee impairment through the lenses of isolation and integration to determine if working in one situation has career implications. He’s also investigating the links between disability, educational attainment, and incomes to determine how the three characteristics may be related.

“That’s an example of going beyond just a person’s employment status and looking more at the quality of their employment,” he said.