The Attitudes and Prejudices toward Employees with Disabilities May be Preventing Success in the Workplace

The Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act mandate that people with disabilities be provided with civil rights protections in the employment settings. Furthermore, both mandates require that workers with disabilities be provided with reasonable accommodations in order for them to be successful in the workplace. Nevertheless, people with disabilities have three times the unemployment rate of their non-disabled peers. This phenomenon has seen no improvement since the passage of civil rights mandates such as the Americans with Disabilities Act. Furthermore, the dwindling economy has made the acquisition of employment by those with special needs more difficult than ever. Part Of the difficulty may be resentment and poor attitudes toward employees with disabilities by their non-disabled co-workers.

Historically, public attitudes toward people with disabilities, compounded by a preconceived evaluation of the negative aspects of those disabilities, have made employers reluctant to hire potential workers with special need. These attitudes and the inevitable reluctance have resulted in discrimination against people with disabilities in virtually every area of employment. However, it was also reported that the negative attitudes and discrimination could be negated when the prospective employer had a prior experience of having a person with a disability serve as a member of their workforce. This phenomenon had been previously reported, citing the concept that the prior experience of hiring people with disabilities made prospective employers less concerned about any negative consequences associated with hiring a new employee with special needs.

Interestingly, research has suggested that an important issue associated with the success or failure of an employee in the workplace is whether the granting of accommodations is accepted by non-disabled co-workers. Regardless of the mandates of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, it has become apparent that some fellow employees view accommodations for co-workers with disabilities as special treatment. Such attitudes often lead to hostile work environments which inevitably lead to workplace failure by the person with special needs.

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This phenomenon has been examined for decades. Yet, the negative attitudes of employers toward the concept of providing workplace accommodations for workers with disabilities has apparently not improved. The granting (or not granting) of such accommodations by employers may be based on previous negative perceptions that the employers held regarding the integration of people with disabilities in the workplace. Despite the attention that government agencies and the courts have paid to this issue, it has been reported that prospective employers have little knowledge or awareness of workplace accommodations. Perhaps most alarming has been the uncertainty in how to improve the attitudes of non-disabled workers toward providing accommodations to their peers with special needs. One suggestion offered a decade ago was that non-disabled co-workers develop positive or negative attitudes toward workplace accommodations for fellow employees with disabilities, depending on whether they believe such accommodations were directly job related and were provided fairly.

Unfortunately, a harsh economic climate has made the employment of individuals with disabling condition more problematic than ever. As previously suggested, people with disabilities are rapidly becoming members of society’s “underclass”. As “second class citizens”, these individuals have been ostracized from the workforce, appropriate housing, and reasonable healthcare. Legal mandates may formerly declare the civil rights that members of the disability community are entitles to, but laws and court decisions cannot change the attitudes and biases that society and the community have toward those who are perceived to be “inferior” and , thus, “less deserving” of such rights and opportunities.

 The Guest Column is our readers' opportunity to write about a given issue or topic in an in-depth and educational manner.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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