Study reveals extensive disability discrimination in job applications

employment application form on a clipboard with a pen
Study Exposes Employment Discrimination

Employers are 26 percent less likely to respond to applications from qualified applicants with disabilities than their peers, according to a new study from researchers from Rutgers and Syracuse Universities.

“I don’t think we were astounded by the fact that there were fewer expressions of interest for people with disabilities,” Lisa Schur, a Rutgers political scientist who was part of the research team, told the New York Times. “But I don’t think we were expecting it to be as large.”

For the study, the first of its kind, the researchers sent out more than 6,000 fake cover letters and resumes to various accounting jobs over the country. The resumes were divided into two categories: one for highly qualified candidates, with six years of experience, and another for novice candidates, just one year out of college.

Each resume was accompanied by one of three cover letters: One for a candidate with no disability, one for a candidate disclosing a spinal cord injury, and one for a candidates disclosing the existence of Asperger’s syndrome.

The rejection rates for the applicants with spinal cord injuries and Asperger’s were roughly the same.

However, contrary to some earlier studies, the more experienced candidates were far more likely to be rejected than the novice candidates. Overall, the highly qualified applicants with disabilities were 34 percent less likely to receive a response than their peers, compared to 15 percent less for the novice candidates.

The researchers also found a steep drop off in in response rates from businesses with 15 or fewer employees. These businesses are exempt from Americans with Disabilities Act regulations.

“Unfortunately, the results of the study do not surprise us,” Curt Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, told Forbes, adding that prejudice, litigation concerns and perceived accommodation costs are the most likely factors driving employers to reject applicants with disabilities.

According to the most recent monthly statistics, from September, the national unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 10.4 percent, or more than double that of the national 5.1 percent rate.

Disability Rights Washington, the publisher of Rooted in Rights, is the designated protection and advocacy agency for Washington state, and a member of the National  Disability Rights Network.