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Reflections from Employers on the Disabled Workforce: Focus Groups with Healthcare, Hospitality and Retail Administrators


Historically, employment rates for people with disabilities have been low. Despite legislation that prohibits the discrimination of this group in work settings, employers are reluctant to hire people with disabilities. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the experiences of employers with workers with disabilities. Three focus groups were conducted with 21 administrators from three business sectors (i.e., healthcare, hospitality, and retail). Content analysis indicated five primary themes: (1) importance of disability employment agencies and disability advocates; (2) persistence of manager bias; (3) lack of promotion opportunities; (4) costs associated with having workers with disabilities; and (5) benefits associated with having workers with disabilities. Implications include the need for intervention studies that address the challenges experienced by individuals with disabilities, particularly during hiring and promoting phases of employment, and educational efforts to inform administrators and managers of the few costs and numerous benefits associated with having workers with disabilities.

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We extend our appreciation to Jay Rosen, Dan Schober, Anna Kushnir, and Jessica Ruiz. We also want to acknowledge the collaboration and commitment of disabilityworks, City of Chicago Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development, and Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce to this work. Funding for this project was provided by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO). The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and not necessarily those of our collaborators or DCEO. Marielle Divilbiss is now at Kent State University.

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Correspondence to Brigida Hernandez.

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Hernandez, B., McDonald, K., Divilbiss, M. et al. Reflections from Employers on the Disabled Workforce: Focus Groups with Healthcare, Hospitality and Retail Administrators. Employ Respons Rights J 20, 157–164 (2008).

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Key words

  • workers with disabilities
  • employer attitudes