Supervisors Share Effective Ways to Include People with Disabilities in the Workplace

Experts report initial results practical implications of the 2017 Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey: Supervisor Perspectives

A multidisciplinary team of researchers at Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire, Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD), has authored a new article that describes the practices that employers use to facilitate the inclusion of employees with disabilities in their workplaces. “The effectiveness of employer practices to recruit, hire, and retain employees with disabilities: Supervisor perspectives, was published by the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation on November 19, 2019.

The article is based on initial findings from the 2017 Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey: Supervisor Perspectives (KFNEDS: SP), the first national survey to examine the effectiveness of the processes and practices used by employers to include people with disabilities in their workplaces, from the unique perspective of supervisors of employees with disabilities. The authors are Kimberly G. Phillips, PhD, and Andrew Houtenville, PhD, of the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability, and John O’Neill, PhD, and Elaine E. Katz, MS, CCC-SLP, of Kessler Foundation.

The 2017 KFNEDS:SP, which was based on a Qualtrics business-to-business panel, comprised 6,530 supervisors at U.S. organizations with a minimum of 25 employees. The majority of respondents had experience with disability, either personally or through a close relationship, and many had hired and supervised workers with disabilities.

Information elicited included the existence of employment-related processes (e.g., recruiting process), whether these processes were effective, and comparison of the effectiveness of these processes for people with and without disabilities. Several questions gauged the supervisors’ commitment to the inclusion of people with disabilities in their organization, and their view of the commitment of their upper management. Questions addressed whether organizations had specific employment practices in place, and if so, whether they were effective. If a practice was not in place, supervisors were asked whether they felt it would be feasible to implement it. Supervisors also responded to open-ended questions about processes and practices at their organization, and the potential challenges and successes for their implementation for employees with disabilities.

Among the survey’s findings were processes and practices that were effective for people with disabilities, but underutilized by organizations, according to Dr. Phillips, research assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire. “For example, partnering with a disability organization was identified as a highly effective way to identify qualified candidates,” she reported. “However, only 28.5% of organizations had implemented this as a means of recruiting employees with disabilities. Interestingly, 75% of supervisors said this would be feasible for their organization to implement.” Other effective, but underutilized practices were auditing of hiring practices, supervisor training in accessible application and interview methods, job shadowing, onsite training, and job sharing.

The survey revealed that the commitment of upper management mirrored the attitudes of supervisors and was reflected in the organization’s hiring goals for people with disabilities. “Our findings underscore the importance of the commitment of upper management to an inclusive workplace,” said Dr. O’Neill, director of Employment and Disability Research at Kessler Foundation. “The greater the commitment, the greater the support for supervisors, and the more likely we are to see successful inclusion of employees with disabilities.”

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