Many federal supervisors unaware of disability initiatives

July 16, 2002

ITHACA, N.Y. -- July 26 is the 10th anniversary of the part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that prohibits job discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities.

The good news is that 7 percent of the almost 1 million workers in 17 major federal agencies are individuals with disabilities. And, three-quarters of supervisors in these agencies have made at least one workplace adjustment for workers with disabilities -- and nearly half made four or more -- over the past five years.

The bad news, however, is that only one-third of the supervisors are familiar with the kinds of accommodations available for persons with disabilities applying for jobs or are aware of initiatives to use telecommuting to accommodate those with significant disabilities. In addition, less than half are familiar with special government initiatives to hire 100,000 more qualified individuals with disabilities over the next five years.

"These results show that employers, like the federal government, are indeed responding to disability nondiscrimination requirements. However, more needs to be done, especially in light of an aging work force whose productivity will depend upon employers' abilities to proactively accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities," says Susanne Bruyere, director of the Program on Employment and Disability (PED) in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University.

Bruyere is the co-author of a new report, "Survey of the Federal Government on Supervisor Practices in Employment of People with Disabilities." Sponsored by the Presidential Task Force on Employment of Adults with Disabilities, the study is a survey of 1,001 supervisors in 17 civilian executive branch agencies, such as the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education and Transportation; the Social Security Administration; and Health and Human Services.

The report is available at no charge at .

"The fact that so few supervisors are aware of recent executive orders to hire and accommodate individuals with disabilities points to a troubling disconnect -- how can these initiatives be effective when so few supervisors on the 'front line' are aware of them?" says Bruyere, who conducted the study with William Erickson and Richard Horn, from the Presidential Task Force on Employment of Adults with Disabilities, in the U.S. Department of Labor.

However, of the 40 percent of supervisors who were aware of the special initiatives, two in five reported that the initiatives had influenced their practices in hiring and/or accommodating workers with disabilities.

Among the other findings:

o About one-third of the supervisors surveyed reported that they had hired at least one person with a disability in the past five years.

o About half of the supervisors for white-collar workers reported that it would be easy to accommodate an individual with a chronic illness or disability to work at home one to two days a week.

o About half of the supervisors oversaw at least one worker with a severe disability.

o More than half of the respondents said that when accommodations were made for individuals with disabilities, the changes were easy to implement.

o Less than one in 10 of the supervisors were taking advantage of the wide range of resources available to help them resolve issues regarding workers with disabilities. However, when the resources were used, the supervisors reported finding them very helpful.

"Nevertheless, the low level of supervisor awareness of hiring initiatives and resources available is particularly disturbing," Bruyere concludes. "The federal government, as a model employer for individuals with disabilities, needs to provide more education on the hiring initiatives and on the resources available to accommodate individuals with disabilities. Only by doing so will the federal government meet its commitment to increase opportunities and remove barriers to the employment of people with disabilities in the federal government."

Related World Wide Web sites: The following sites provide additional information on this news release. Some might not be part of the Cornell University community, and Cornell has no control over their content or availability.

o Program on Employment and disability at Cornell:

o Department of Labor Disability Employment Sites:

Cornell University

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