Introduction

Central to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) is the concept that discrimination against people with disabilities includes not making reasonable accommodations to the physical and mental limitations of a qualified individual with a disability, in the absence of an “undue hardship” on the business involved. As stated eloquently by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the seminal U.S. Supreme Court case Tennessee v. Lane [1],

Including individuals with disabilities among people who count in composing “We the People,” Congress understood in shaping the ADA, would sometimes require not blindfolded equality, but responsiveness to difference; not indifference, but accommodation. Central to the Act’s primary objective, Congress extended the statute’s range … and required … “reasonable accommodations.”

Focusing on the area of employment, this article seeks to explore in new ways and in a specific employment context whether the ADA’s accommodation principle is working effectively when people require accommodations.

For many people with disabilities, finding and keeping a job remains a challenge. Data show that in 2019, before the global health and economic emergency of 2020, less than one-third (30.9%) of people with disabilities between ages 16 and 64 were employed in the United States, compared to almost three-quarters (74.6%) of people without disabilities in comparable age groups [2]. Of those employed, 32% of workers with disabilities had part-time jobs, compared to only 17% of those without disabilities [2]. This large disparity persisted (and continues to persist) despite legislation such as the ADA, which aimed to improve employment outcomes and reduce employment discrimination for people with disabilities [3, 4].

There are many reasons for the persistent disparities in employment facing people with disabilities, among them that many people with disabilities do not experience the same opportunities when seeking work and, when they have a job, are faced with additional attitudinal and organization structural barriers [3, 5,6,7,8]. Workplace accommodations—individualized adjustments to the way work is performed—are one important way to address these barriers and support the employment of people with disabilities [9]. The receipt of accommodations is positively associated both with being employed, and with higher job performance and satisfaction at work [9, 10].

Nonetheless, effective workplace accommodations are not always available to all workers [11]. While people with health conditions, impairments, and other disabilities are more likely to request workplace accommodations than those without disabilities [12], there likely are disparities in who actually receives them. For example, racial minorities and those without a college degree are less likely to be accommodated in the workplace [13]. These findings are consistent with 2019 employment data showing that among people with disabilities, Blacks have the highest unemployment rate (11.8%), followed by Hispanics (8.6%), Asians (6.7%), and Whites (6.6%) [2].

This article derives from and builds upon the increasing recognition by the American Bar Association (“ABA”) and other legal entities that successful organizations seek to hire and retain diverse talent. It draws in particular upon original data from a national survey of 3,590 lawyers, conducted in collaboration with the ABA, designed to explore diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. With representation from all U.S. regions and states, as well as the District of Columbia, the survey examined lawyers with diverse backgrounds who are practicing in varying venues, with a primary focus on lawyers who identify as having health conditions, impairments, and disabilities, and on those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or as having other sexual orientations and gender identities (“LGBTQ+” as an overarching term). The survey has a planned longitudinal component, with a program of studies to accompany the work.

This article is the second in a planned series of studies based on that national survey. The first article was descriptive in nature and presented an enhanced organizational diversity and inclusion concept that we labeled “Diversity and Inclusion Plus Accommodation” (“D&I+”) [14]. The analysis in this first article showed that 28% of lawyers reported requesting at least one type of accommodation and that 76% of the time an accommodation was granted to the employee. The analysis also found that around 40% of lawyers reported at least one form of subtle or overt discrimination in their workplaces, and that 46% reported they had perceived or experienced organizational strategies and practices that were effective in lessening such bias and discrimination [14].

This second article builds on these accommodation findings, and those of other studies, and extends their analyses using multivariate modeling to explore a particular aspect of the D&I+ concept [15, 16]. D&I+ focuses on three core elements that may be applied across settings to advance an organization’s overall mission: (1) Diversity of talent; (2) Inclusion of talent; and (3) Accommodation of talent. We hypothesize that the accommodation element is vital to achieving organizational diversity and inclusion, and that we will better understand the centrality of the D&I+ concept by examining the nature of diverse individuals who request and are granted accommodations. Thus, this article begins to unpack the individual identities associated with accommodation requests and approvals [14].

This second article also provides a pre-COVID-19 baseline of workplace experiences for the cohort—lawyers—addressed in the survey. With the world-wide spread of the virus, employers now must take precautions. They must adopt and expand new ways of working, such as teleworking, remote work, and flexible scheduling, so as to increase social distancing, protect the health and safety of employees, and guard against the potential spread of the virus. Many of these changes are becoming a “new norm” for work. One survey of over three hundred Chief Financial Officers has found that almost three-quarters (74%) of private companies in the U.S. may transition at least five percent of their on-site employees to permanently remote positions [17]. These remote work arrangements may benefit people with disabilities (or those who have family members with disabilities): better outcomes may result from work-related accommodations in their own homes [11, 18, 19, 85]. And the pandemic raises the question of whether many of the changes made will remain the “new norm” once the pandemic ends, further benefitting people with disabilities and their families.

Prior research has explored the nature and cost/benefit of workplace accommodations, examining who requests them, who may need them, and who receives them [5, 13, 14]. Lawyers and legal professionals, however, have been understudied in the literature on workplace accommodations [20]. Further, to our knowledge, there is little if any large-scale study of the ways in which accommodation requests and outcomes play out when they involve people of different and intersecting individual identities.

The articles in our program of study attempt to address these gaps and, in this article in particular, we seek to add to our understanding of who requests workplace accommodations and who gets accommodated. Adopting an intersectional perspective as an analytical framework [21], we investigate how disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, age, and their interactions affect requests for, and receipt of, workplace accommodations in the legal profession. This approach enables examination of the unique experiences of individuals with multiple minority identities who request and receive accommodations in the workplace. This use of intersectionality, according to Crenshaw, provides an effective framework to understand how one’s identities interact to create a unique experience with regards to oppression. For example, the experiences of Black women with accommodations likely are not simply the addition of experiences of Black individuals and those of women but rather reflect unique experiences of their own, oftentimes shaped by other individual identities (e.g., sexual orientation, disability, age) [21,22,23].

As discussed below, the preliminary results indicate that personal identity factors, such as gender identity, disability status, and age are associated with accommodation requests. Specifically, the odds of requesting accommodations among lawyers are higher for women and people with disabilities, as compared to men and those without disabilities, and generally lower for older people. In addition, the results indicate that the odds of requesting accommodations are higher for older LGBQ lawyers as compared to younger lawyers.

The results, however, also show that individuals with multiple marginalized identities are less likely to receive accommodations. Counter to predictions, being a person with a disability is negatively associated with having an accommodation request granted. Older lawyers, overall, do have higher odds of their accommodations being granted. Nonetheless, such effects are offset for certain groups, such as women and racial/ethnic minorities, whose odds decline with age. In addition, LGBQ lawyers who are racial minorities have lower odds than White LGBQ lawyers of having their accommodation requests granted.

Further, the results indicate that job factors, such as longer firm tenure, increase the odds of requesting accommodations, while working for a private organization decreases the odds. However, when it comes to having accommodation requests granted, organizational factors such as working for a large organization result in higher odds of provision, as compared to working for a smaller organization. Broadly, the results indicate that those who may need accommodations, such as lawyers with disabilities and women, are more likely to request accommodations. But when it comes to having accommodation requests granted, the results show that disabled, older women, older racial/ethnic minority, and LGBQ minority lawyers have lower odds of provision.

In sum, workplace accommodations are crucial for companies to attract and retain diverse talent, and for many people with disabilities to remain in the workforce. Failure to accommodate reduces the likelihood of hire and of job retention, and under the ADA may be a distinct form of workplace discrimination [3]. Yet, there is a general lack of systematic empirical study of accommodations for underrepresented, multiple-identity minority groups. In the following sections, we overview extant literature on accommodations, present our research questions, and describe the methodology used to answer these questions. Thereafter, we present our findings. In the final section, we consider the implications of our results, the limitations of the present study, and possible pathways for future research.

Prior Research on Workplace Accommodations

Researchers have examined aspects of workplace accommodations, such as the characteristics of people who request them, types requested, outcomes of the requests, and benefits and costs in the provision of accommodations [12]. To our knowledge, however, there are no large-scale investigations of accommodations for legal professionals [20]. Therefore, we start by drawing implications from prior studies that have examined accommodations among other groups.

Overall, demographic and socioeconomic factors are important determinants for workers requesting accommodations and receiving them. Race and ethnicity have been shown to play a role in who receives an accommodation: racial minorities are less likely to be accommodated, with the implication that organizations are more willing to provide accommodations for White employees [13, 24]. Minority employees also report lower satisfaction with the accommodations provided. Balser and Harris contend that such differences in satisfaction between accommodations for White employees and for minority employees may result from White employees being more likely to have greater input in the accommodation process, and thus more likely to receive the accommodation requested [25].

Gender is an important factor in the accommodation process. Harlan and Robert show that women employees have their requests for accommodations denied more often than men, despite women being more likely than men to request them [26]. They argue that this may be explained by differences in the types of jobs and disabilities that women have relative to men. In their study, women were more likely to have lower-level jobs unsuited for those with chronic illnesses, leading them to request particular accommodations [26].

In a different study of two-hundred and sixty-seven employed women undergoing treatment for early-stage breast cancer, lower-income women had the lowest job retention after treatment. But almost all (98%) of the non-Latina White women were able to return to work due to accommodations from their employers, and higher-income women were more likely to receive accommodations [27]. It is important to note that in the survey analyzed for our program of study, the disparity in job and income levels is somewhat limited between men and women lawyers, given that we are examining only one type of white-collar cohort.

Weinberg and colleagues examined how both trial judges and ordinary people decided whether accommodation requests were reasonable. They found that the social identity of the accommodation-requester impacts determinations of its reasonableness for both judges and laypeople; for example, accommodation requests were rated as more reasonable when made by a nursing mother as compared to the same request made by a transgender or Muslim employee [28]. However, other studies not including transgender individuals show that gender is not significantly related to requesting and receiving accommodations [24] or being satisfied with accommodations [25].

Not surprisingly, people with disabilities, and those with particular impairments, are more likely to request accommodations as compared to those without disabilities [12, 25, 29, 30]. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics July 2019 report [31], 13.8% of employed people with disabilities requested an accommodation in their workplace, while 9.1% of employed people without a disability requested a change or accommodation. This report also found that people with disabilities mostly requested accommodations for physical changes, while people without a disability primarily requested accommodations in work-related policies. In one study, although a high proportion (81.5%) of people with and without disabilities who requested accommodations were granted or partially granted them, people with disabilities were even more likely to be fully granted accommodations [30]. Nonetheless, the characteristics of impairment causing the disability [32, 33], disability severity [33,34,35,36], and disability onset [37, 38] are differentially associated with a differential likelihood of receiving accommodations.

One study of individuals 50 years of age and older showed that participants who self-reported psychiatric disabilities, those who had more than one disability type, those who performed unskilled and semi-skilled jobs, those over 61 years of age, and those with lower education levels had a reduced prevalence of requesting and receiving accommodations [29]. In other studies, older people with serious mental health issues in lower-paying jobs were less likely to receive accommodations as compared to coworkers with other disabilities [39]. On the other hand, a study by Anand and Sevak showed that people who are in poor health and with physical disabilities were less likely to receive accommodations than their non-disabled and healthy counterparts. [12]. When it comes to the relationship between age and disability, studies show that even in circumstances where older employees need accommodations, they often are less likely to request accommodations [29, 40, 41].

There is a general lack of research on people who identify as LGBTQ+ and their experience with workplace accommodations. Disclosing sexual orientation to request an accommodation may cause stigmatization, threats of prejudice and discrimination [42,43,44], and threats to psychological safety and accusations of help-seeking [45], and therefore may deter requests.

Other personal characteristics and job-related factors also likely relate to the request for provision of accommodations. Longer job tenure, presumably associated with power in an organization, is associated with higher likelihood of requesting accommodations [29] and receiving them [46], as are working full-time and being a permanent employee [24, 39]. Individuals with higher-level jobs, such as in professional and managerial positions, have an increased likelihood of requesting and receiving accommodations [26,27,28,29]. Individuals with advocacy skills [33], personal confidence [47], and knowledge of workplace rights and the ADA [26, 29, 33, 35, 47, 48] also are more likely to request accommodations.

Organizational characteristics, such as firm size, market/labor sector, working conditions, and culture likely impact the prevalence of individual requests for and receipt of accommodations. Thus, working for a larger company is associated with a higher likelihood of requesting and receiving accommodations [24, 49, 50]. Moreover, the relationship between business size, positive employer attitudes, and willingness to grant workplace accommodations together affect accommodation provision [51]. This may be because larger companies generally have greater resources for, and experience with, addressing accommodation requests [24, 29, 49].

Smaller companies with less than fifteen employees are not required to comply with the ADA’s accommodation requirements [29]. They may therefore be less familiar with the ADA accommodation principle [49]. They may also be less open to employing people with disabilities [51] as compared to larger organizations that tend to be more familiar with the ADA and more willing to employ people with disabilities [49, 52]. Organizational experience, supports, and culture are therefore important to accommodation provision. Employees perceiving greater workplace support are more likely to request accommodations [29, 35]. On the other hand, employees who experience fear and concern in seeking accommodations, as well as a hostile workplace culture, are less likely to request accommodations [45, 46].

Other studies show that organizational processes for requesting accommodations vary and are associated with accommodation requests and provision. Among employees with disabilities, perceptions of organizational reasonableness and a climate of inclusion likely influence accommodation provision [45, 53]. Studies also suggest that accommodation requests from employees with psychological disabilities, and generally hidden disabilities, often are perceived by employers as less reasonable, and as such are less likely to be granted [45, 54]. Studies additionally suggest that other organizational and individual characteristics influence particular accommodation requests and provision (e.g., for assistive technology or flexible scheduling), such as openness to employee input as a form of workplace culture or climate, union membership, and impairment type and onset [27, 55].

Lastly, effective access to workplace accommodation is associated with job performance and satisfaction [35, 54, 56], as well as employment opportunity [9, 10]. Even so, one nationwide study of a range of industries suggests that about half (47% to 58%) of individuals who may require accommodations are not provided them [10].

Notably, the extant literature generally has not considered intersectional identity aspects associated with the accommodation calculus, including such individual factors as race, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, disability characteristics, and age. Instead, research to date on accommodations has largely focused on disability and organizational factors as monochromatic elements and has not systematically examined the experiences of individuals with multiple minority identities, including disability, race, gender, LGBTQ+, and age. This study begins to fill this gap in the understanding of workplace accommodation requests and provision.

Research Questions

Using data from a survey of 3,590 lawyers across the United States, this second article in our program of study examines patterns in workplace accommodation requests and provision. As discussed elsewhere [14], we purposefully oversampled from the disability and LGBTQ+ communities to consider the following research questions:

  1. (1)

    Accommodation Requests: To what extent do disability, sexual orientation, gender, race, and age individually, and in combination, predict an individual’s likelihood of making an accommodation request?

We hypothesized that individuals with disabilities, those who are older, and women are more likely to request accommodations, as these groups often experience a mismatch between their individual work-related needs and job demands [14, 24, 29, 36, 38, 39, 57,58,59,60,61,62]. We also hypothesized that individuals with multiple minority identities might be less likely to request accommodations, including individuals with disabilities and those who identify as LGBTQ+. This might be due to factors such as stigma and the difficulty of identity disclosure as part of the accommodation request process [63,64,65], the high degrees of discrimination that LGBTQ+ individuals report in employment [63, 66,67,68], and limited enforcement of laws against these forms of discrimination.

  1. (2)

    Accommodation Provision: To what extent do disability, sexual orientation, gender, race, and age individually, and in combination, predict an individual’s likelihood of receipt of accommodation?

We hypothesized that individuals with disabilities are more likely to have accommodation requests granted. We predicted that accommodation provision likelihood is further impacted by intersectional identities associated with gender, race, and age [9, 10, 12, 13, 22, 27, 69, 70].

Methods

Data

To answer these research questions, we employ data from the first phase of the longitudinal survey project, involving a sample of 3,590 responding lawyers in the United States [14]. The survey used quantitative and qualitative questions, with fixed-choice and open-ended response opportunities, and is discussed in detail elsewhere [14]. In this sample, while 3,590 lawyers responded to the survey, not all of them necessarily completed all the survey questions.

Due to our intentional oversampling [14],Footnote 1 the proportion of lawyers identifying as disabled or LGBTQ+ is higher than that reported in the legal profession overall [71, 72]. The magnitude of the disability and LGBTQ+ sub-samples, therefore, is not representative of the population in the legal profession. However, they may be considered as comparators to other sub-populations sampled, in particular, to gender, race, and age [14].

For the purpose of this study, we define two separate analytical samples. The first contains 2,166 respondents, derived from the sample of 2,842 respondents who answered the question: “Have you ever requested from this organization any change or accommodation in your job or workplace to better meet your personal needs?” This analytical sample is used to answer the first research question regarding accommodation requests. The second sample contains 574 respondents, derived from the 757 respondents who answered the question “Was the change or accommodation made?” This sample is used to answer the second research question regarding accommodation provision.Footnote 2

Outcome Variables

Accommodation Requested

The first primary dependent variable is binary: “Have you ever requested from this organization any change or accommodation in your job or workplace to better meet your personal needs?”, coded as 0 “No” and 1 “Yes.” Slightly more than one-quarter (28%) of respondents reported requesting accommodations.

Accommodation Granted

The second primary dependent variable is based on the question: “Was the change or accommodation made?” Respondents could answer “Yes, all requested changes were made (or other changes were made that were just as good)”; “No, none of my requested changes were made”; “Only some of my requested changes were made (not as good as what was requested).” Responses that the request was granted fully or partially were coded as 1 for “Yes,” and where the request was not granted coded as 0 for “No.” Three-quarters of respondents (75%) reported their request was fully granted, 15% that it was partially granted, and 10% that it was not granted.

Individual Characteristics

Included in the analyses are respondent’s disability status, sexual orientation, gender, race/ethnicity, and age. Disability is coded as 1: “has a disability, impairment, or health condition” and 0: “no disability.” This variable was created as a combination of two questions. First, we used the six disability measures from the American Community Survey (“ACS”).Footnote 3 In addition, respondents were asked “Do you have a disability or health condition not reflected in the previous question?” Those who answered yes to one or more of these seven questions are coded as 1 or “Yes,” while those who responded no to all the questions are coded as 0 or “No.” Overall, one quarter (25%) of our respondents reported at least one disability.

Sexual orientation is a binary variable coded as 1 if the respondent identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer (“LGBQ”) and 0 for straight/heterosexual (about 17% of respondents identified as LGBQ).

Gender is coded as three separate binary variables for women (1 “Women”, 0 “Other”), men (1 “Men”, 0 “Other”), and transgender (1 “Transgender”, 0 “Other”). Although the sample of transgender participants is relatively small, we include their responses to help build information on their experiences in accommodation requests and provision, which is generally lacking in the extant literature.

“Men” is the omitted or comparator variable in our analytical models. The gender variables are derived from two different questions asking the respondents’ gender (Woman, Man, Other) and whether they consider themselves to be transgender. The answers are coded to be mutually exclusive. In addition, while we considered the unique felt gender of transgender lawyers, to identify accommodation experiences for this group, transgender lawyers are coded as transgender even when they report their gender as man or woman. As a result, in the following discussion, the terms “men” and “women” indicate cisgender individuals. Women comprise more than half (54%) of respondents, men 45%, and transgender respondents 1%.

Race and ethnicity are coded as one variable to indicate racial and ethnic minority status and to further the preliminary intersectional analyses here. This variable is coded as 1 if the respondent identifies as a racial or ethnic minority (Black, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, Asian, Multiracial) and 0 if White Non-Hispanic. Sixteen percent of our respondents identified as a racial and/or ethnic minority.

Age is coded as a continuous variable, with ranges from 23 to 90 and an average of 49 years.Footnote 4

Control Variables

We include covariates or controls, derived from the prior literature and those that respondents identified as important, such as firm tenure (coded as 0 for “less than one year to 70 years”, average of 11 years), practice type, and organization size. Practice type is a binary variable coded 1 for “private” and 0 “other” (e.g., in-house legal department, public sector, non-profit, education). Around 60% of organizations were private law firm practices. Organization size is coded as 1 for organizations with more than 500 lawyers (large organization) and 0 for organizations with fewer than 500 lawyers (relatively smaller organizations). Around 20% of organizations had more than 500 lawyers.

Table 1 shows an overview of the respondents, indicating the proportion for each variable included in our models. It includes information on types of disability and on accommodation(s) requested. Among people with disabilities and health conditions, people with more than one health condition, disability, or impairment and those with mental health disabilities represent the largest share of our sample.Footnote 5 Among those who requested accommodations, people who requested more than one accommodation and who requested changes to their job structure represent the largest share.

Table 1 Descriptive statistics

Analytic Strategy

To present descriptive statistics for our sample, we estimate differences in characteristics between respondents who requested and did not request accommodations, and for those who had their accommodation request approved and those who did not have their request approved. We use Pearson’s \(\chi^{2}\) to test for the general association between variables. We use Fisher’s exact test when analysis does not meet Pearson’s \(\chi^{2}\) test assumptions. We use a p < 0.1 to reject the null hypothesis that our variables are independent.

To answer the two primary research questions, we estimate the odds ratio of requesting accommodations and of having the request approved. Using logistic models, we estimate differences in odds according to individual characteristics, adjusting for covariates mentioned above. The basic model (Model 1) without covariates is shown below.

$$\left( {p_{i} /(1 - p_{i} } \right)) = \beta_{0} + \beta_{1} Disability_{i} + \beta_{2} LGBQ_{i} + \beta_{3} Women_{i} + \beta_{4} Transgender_{i} + \beta_{5} Racial\_Minority_{i} + \beta_{6} Age_{i} + \varepsilon_{i}$$
(1)

We progressively add to this model the covariates such as job tenure, organization type, and organization size to assess their contribution to the variation associated with accommodation requests and requests granted (Model 2).

$$\left( {p_{i} /(1 - p_{i} } \right)) = \beta_{0} + \beta_{1} Disability_{i} + \beta_{2} LGBQ_{i} + \beta_{3} Women_{i} + \beta_{4} Transgender_{i} + \beta_{5} Race\_Ethnicity_{i} + \beta_{7} Age_{i} + \gamma X + \varepsilon_{i}$$
(2)

We next add 2 × 2 interactions of individual characteristics (Model 3) and 3 × 3 interactions of individual characteristics of interest (Model 4). This is done to focus on the intersectional analyses that consider ways in which individual characteristics independently, and together, associate to create a unique personal and structural experience for lawyers who request and who are provided accommodations. While all combinations of 2 × 2 interactions are included, based on previous studies and practical limitations, we test select illustrative 3 × 3 interactions.

$$\left( {p_{i} /(1 - p_{i} } \right)) = \beta_{0} + \beta_{1} Disability_{i} + \beta_{2} LGBQ_{i} + \beta_{3} Women_{i} + \beta_{4} Transgender_{i} + \beta_{5} Race\_ethnicity_{i} + \beta_{6} Age_{i} + \beta_{n} 2x2_{i} + \gamma X + \varepsilon_{i}$$
(3)
$$\left( {p_{i} /(1 - p_{i} } \right)) = \beta_{0} + \beta_{1} Disability_{i} + \beta_{2} LGBQ_{i} + \beta_{3} Women_{i} + \beta_{4} Transgender_{i} + \beta_{5} Race\_ethnicity_{i} + \beta_{6} Age_{i} + \beta_{n - 1} 2x2_{i} + \beta_{n} 3x3_{i} + \gamma X + \varepsilon_{i}$$
(4)

Results

Associational Characteristics

Table 2 shows the pairwise correlation coefficients and their statistical significance levels for the variables used in our models to address the two core research questions.Footnote 6 The results indicate that disability, gender, race/ethnicity, and organization type and size alone are significantly associated with accommodation requests. Being a person with a disability, a woman, and a racial/ethnic minority is positively correlated with having requested an accommodation. Working in a private and large organization, and being a man, is negatively associated with requests for accommodations. The results also indicate that disability, gender, and type of organization are associated with accommodation outcomes. Specifically, being a woman and working for a private organization is positively correlated with having a request granted. Conversely, and counter to predictions, being a person with a disability, and being a man, is negatively correlated with having accommodation requests granted.

Table 2 Correlation between dependent variables and relevant individual characteristics

To aid interpretation of these results, and for future research, we include associations with type of disability in Table 2. Results show that having a general health condition is negatively associated with requesting accommodations. This result may be predictable because many such general health conditions may not be perceived as, or actually covered as, disabilities under the ADA. By contrast, having more than one disability, which likely is associated with more severely compromised health, is positively associated with accommodation requests. Interestingly and perhaps predictably, having a mental disability or mental health condition is negatively associated with accommodation receipt, which may be reflective of stigma associated with mental disabilities in general and difficulties associated with documenting some forms of mental disabilities.

In terms of other associations to be explored in future research, being LGBQ is positively associated with having a disability generally, and a mental health condition or disability in particular, as well as with “other” disability, but negatively associated with having a sensory or mobility (arguably visible) disability. Being a woman is positively correlated with report of a mental disability and negatively correlated with having a sensory or more than one disability. Being a man, on the other hand, is positively associated with having a sensory disability, but negatively correlated with having a mental disability. Finally, being older is positively associated with having a disability in general, and with having a sensory or mobility disability, and multiple disabilities, but negatively associated with having a mental health disability.

Disability

Tables 3 and 7 provide descriptive statistics on accommodation requests separated by group. Table 3 shows frequency distributions for accommodation requests by individual characteristics, with row percentages (Table 7, in the Appendix, presents column percentages). There is an expected significant relationship between disability status and accommodation requests. Specifically, 42.88% of lawyers with disabilities reported having requested accommodations as compared to 23.23% of those without disabilities.

Table 3 Distribution of accommodations requested by individual characteristics (row percentages)

Distribution of accommodation requests varies by the obviousness or visibility of disability. As predicted, 36.73% of lawyers with non-apparent disabilities report having requested accommodations compared to 49.01% of those with disabilities that fluctuate, and 54.92% of those with apparent disabilities. Disability visibility appears to be associated with an increased likelihood of accommodation request. The proportion of those with non-apparent disabilities (e.g., mental health disabilities) is much higher among those who did not request accommodations. Certain attorneys who otherwise report a health condition, disability, or impairment may choose not to request accommodations, given the disclosure and stigma associated with mental disability.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The results show that the likelihood of requesting accommodations is associated with an individual’s sexual orientation. Thus, 28.61% of straight/heterosexual respondents report requesting accommodations, as compared to 22.45% of gay/lesbian respondents, 31.82% of respondents who identified as bisexual, 20.00% of respondents who identified as queer, and 37.80% of respondents who reported other sexual orientations. With regard to gender, the results show that women and transgender lawyers are significantly more likely to request accommodations as compared to men.

Race/Ethnicity

There is a strong relationship between race and accommodation requests, which suggests that lawyers who are racial/ethnic minorities are more likely to report having requested workplace accommodations. Results show that 27.55% of White non-Hispanic respondents requested accommodations as compared to 33.48% of racial/ethnic minority respondents.

Age/Tenure

Middle-aged respondents (36-55 years of age) are more likely to request accommodations than either those who are younger or older. Similarly, those with job tenure between six and twenty years are more likely to request accommodations as compared to other groups.

Estimating the Odds of Accommodation Requests

The results in Table 4 show the odds ratio (“OR”) for requesting accommodation as estimated from a series of logistic regression models. We start with a basic model, progressively adding individual characteristics such as disability status, sexual orientation, gender, race, and age. The model including all these characteristics without interactions is our baseline model. We then add control variables, such as job tenure, type and size of organization, 2 × 2 interactions, and illustrative 3 × 3 interactions to the following models. We also conduct a Likelihood Ratio Test (“LR”) to compare the nature of these models. Results from the LR test show that Model 4 is not significantly better than Model 3 in the prediction of our outcome variables. Thus, to simplify interpretation, we focus on the results from Model 3, but have made available for review the results from Model 4 as well.Footnote 7

Table 4 Odds ratio for requesting workplace accommodations

Results from Model 2 in Table 4 show that, controlling for firm tenure, and type and size of organization, being a person with a disability, a woman, or a transgender individual increases the odds of requesting accommodations. Accordingly, people with disabilities, women, and transgender individuals have higher odds of requesting accommodations as compared to people without disabilities and men, respectively.

Results from Model 3 with 2 × 2 interactions added show that being disabled and a woman increases the odds of requesting accommodations, while being older decreases the odds. Thus, lawyers with disabilities have 2.86 times higher odds (95% CI 1.95–4.20) than those without disabilities of requesting accommodations, among those who identify as men, White, straight, and are 49 years old, holding the control variables constant. The odds of requesting accommodations for women are 2.35 times higher than for men (95% CI 1.76–3.12), among lawyers who are white, straight/heterosexual, without disabilities, and 49 years of age, holding other variables constant. Being LGBQ, transgender, or a racial/ethnic minority was not related to the odds of requesting accommodations.Footnote 8

Once we include 2 × 2 interaction terms, age becomes a significant predictor of accommodation requests, as does the interaction term between sexual orientation and age. This suggests that age is an important conditional contributor when interacted with the other individual characteristics. The coefficient for age implies that the odds of requesting workplace accommodations decline by 2% as age increases (95% CI 0.97–0.99) among lawyers who are men, White, straight, and without disabilities.

None of the interaction terms, except for sexual orientation and age, are associated with the odds of requesting accommodation.Footnote 9 The results indicate that for accommodation requests, while there are no contributing interaction effects between sexual orientation and gender, and sexual orientation and race/ethnicity, there is a substantial relationship between sexual orientation and age. Specifically, the odds of requesting accommodations increase by 1.03 times with every year of tenure for LGBQ lawyers (95% CI 1.00–1.06). Tenure in a law firm is associated generally with increased economic power, which may be particularly enhancing for LGBQ lawyers.

In regard to the control variables, each year of job tenure—again likely reflective of individual economic power in the firm—increases the odds of requesting accommodations by a small magnitude of 1.01 (95% CI 1.00–1.02). However, working for a private organization decreases, relatively, the odds by 0.76 (95% CI 0.62–0.94), controlling for other variables in the model.

Overall, the results suggest that disability, gender, and age are associated with increased odds of requesting accommodations. Since generally the variable interaction terms were not substantial, except for one, we cannot conclude that the effects of disability and sexual orientation vary with other individual characteristics in the models, such as gender, race, and age, in terms of being associated with increases in the probability of accommodation requests.

We next convert the OR of requesting workplace accommodations from Model 3 into predicted probabilities for nine non-differentiated identities of individuals (see Fig. 1). To calculate these probabilities for each identity characteristic, we set all other variables in the model at their overall sample mean.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Predicted probability of requesting workplace accommodations by gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, and disability

The results of this analysis show that men have the lowest probability of requesting accommodations (20%), as compared to those without disabilities (23%), White individuals (27%), those who identify as straight/heterosexual (27%), those who identify as LGBQ (28%), racial/ethnic minorities (30%), women (34%), transgender individuals (42%), and individuals with disabilities (44%). Thus, individuals with disabilities have the highest relative probability of requesting accommodations.

In addition, we calculate the probabilities of requesting accommodations from Model 3 for twenty-four multiple identities, or intersectional groupings, with the results presented in Fig. 5 in the Appendix. Results show that White and racial/ethnic minority transgender individuals who also identify as LGBQ and have a disability have the highest probability of requesting accommodations (72%). The top ten intersectional identity groupings with the highest probability of requesting accommodations all include individuals with disabilities.

By comparison, non-Hispanic White men who identify as straight/heterosexual and who do not have disabilities (15%, bottom line of Fig. 5 in the Appendix) show the lowest probability of requesting accommodations, followed by non-Hispanic White men who identify as LGBQ and who do not have disabilities (17%). In Fig. 5 in the Appendix, the bottom nine groups of people, with the lowest probability of requesting accommodations, do not report having disabilities.

Broadly, the results indicate that individuals with disabilities are more likely to request accommodations. There also appears to be a separate effect for gender, with transgender individuals being more likely to request accommodations, as compared to men being less likely to request accommodations. Nonetheless, these intersectional identity interpretations must be viewed as exploratory because the interaction terms between disability and gender are affected by small cell sample sizes.

Finally, we consider the probabilities of requesting accommodations from Model 3 by age for eight distinct intersectional identity groups (illustrated in Fig. 2). The top panel of Fig. 2 illustrates that the probability of requesting accommodations decreases somewhat with age for White non-Hispanic women without disabilities, and decreases for White non-Hispanic women with disabilities. In contrast, women who identify as racial and ethnic minorities, regardless of disability status, show an increase in the probability of requesting accommodations with age (Fig. 2, top panel).

Fig. 2
figure 2

Predicted probability of requesting workplace accommodation by age

In addition to the race/ethnicity differences, these trends suggest that women with disabilities generally have a higher probability of requesting accommodations, as compared to women without disabilities, at all life points (Fig. 2, top panel). The results also show that LGBQ men and women with and without disabilities show increases in the probability of requesting accommodations with age (Fig. 2, bottom panel). LGBQ men and women with disabilities, at all ages, have an overall higher probability of requesting accommodations as compared to those without disabilities (Fig. 2, bottom panel).

Estimating the Odds of Accommodation Receipt

Table 5 shows the distribution of accommodation requests that were fully, partially, or not granted among groups of lawyers. To ease interpretation, we present row percentages, but column percentages can be found in Table 8 in the Appendix. The results show that, except for race/ethnicity, we are not able to reject the null hypothesis that the variables in this table are independent from the accommodation outcomes. Nonetheless, the following discussion provides some insights on the basic distribution and magnitude of accommodation outcomes.

Table 5 Distribution of accommodation outcomes by individual characteristics (row percentages)

First, and counter-intuitively, people who do not report a disability have their accommodation requests fully or partially granted at slightly higher rates as compared to those who report having a disability. Specifically, among people with disabilities, 71.96% had their request fully approved as compared to 76.37% of people without disabilities. Similarly, and also unpredicted, people with disabilities are more likely not to have their accommodation requests granted (12.84%), as compared to people without disabilities (8.75%). Those who report their disability as apparent (i.e., more visible or obvious) are relatively more likely to have their accommodation request approved (77.42%) as compared to those who reported their disability as non-apparent (71.11%), or who have a disability that fluctuates (70.83%). Nonetheless, these trends are not statistically significant.

In regard to sexual orientation, straight/heterosexual respondents had a slightly higher likelihood of having their accommodations approved (75.28%) as compared to LGBQ respondents (72.80%). Similarly, while gender does not seem to explain differences in accommodation approval rates, women have the relatively highest likelihood of having their accommodation request fully or partially granted; they also have the lowest likelihood of having their accommodation request not granted when compared to men and transgender lawyers. In considering race, White non-Hispanic respondents are more likely to have their requests fully provided as compared to other racial and ethnic groups. Middle-aged respondents and those with long tenure (more than 20 years) are more likely to have their requests fully granted. Except for race/ethnicity, these other differences are not statistically significant.

The results in Table 6 present the odds ratio (“OR”) of having accommodation requests granted as estimated from a series of logistic regression models. Similar to the previous models, we start with a basic model, progressively adding individual characteristics such as disability status, sexual orientation, gender, race, and age. The model including all these characteristics is again considered the baseline model. We then add control variables (tenure, type of organization, and size of organization), 2 × 2 interactions, and illustrative 3 × 3 interactions in the following models, as we have done prior. We interpret results from this Model 3, but also present results from Model 4 for informational purposes.

Table 6 Odds ratio of having workplace accommodation requests granted

Results from Model 2 in Table 6 show that none of the individual characteristic variables are statistically significant.Footnote 10 However, once we include 2 × 2 interactions in Model 3, age becomes statistically significant. Similar to Model 2, the results in Model 3 do not support that any individual characteristics are associated with the likelihood of having accommodations granted other than age. Thus, having a disability, being LGBQ, a woman, transgender, or a racial/ethnic minority is not associated with the odds of a positive accommodation outcome.Footnote 11 The coefficient of age implies that the odds of having a request granted increase with age (OR 1.07, 95% CI 1.01–1.14).

The results further show that only the interaction terms between sexual orientation and race/ethnicity, gender (women) and age, and race/ethnicity and age, are statistically significant. Here, the odds of a positive accommodation outcome decline for LGBQ racial/ethnic minority lawyers, older women lawyers, and older racial/ethnic minority lawyers, relative to comparable others. The effect of sexual orientation on accommodation outcome for racial and ethnic minorities is 0.11 times (95% CI 0.01–1.00) that of White lawyers. The odds ratio for women and racial/ethnic minorities decreases by 0.95 (95% CI 0.89–1.00) and 0.93 (95% CI 0.87–0.99) respectively for a one-year increase in age.

The results additionally suggest that the effect of disability on accommodation outcomes does not vary by sexual orientation, gender, race/ethnicity, and age. Similarly, the effect of sexual orientation does not differ by gender or age. There is no evidence to conclude that the effect of age on accommodation outcome is different for transgender lawyers as compared to men, or that the effect of race/ethnicity on accommodation outcomes is different for men and women.Footnote 12

Working for a large organization, however, substantially increases the odds of having accommodation requests granted: 3.59 times higher (95% CI 0.95–13.56), controlling for other variables in the models. Firm tenure and working at a private organization alone are not associated with accommodation outcomes.Footnote 13

Taken together, the exploratory intersectional analyses suggest that the effect of sexual orientation on accommodation outcomes varies by race/ethnicity and effects of gender (older women only), and by race/ethnicity and age. Thus, the odds of a positive accommodation outcome are lower for LGBQ lawyers who are racial/ethnic minorities as compared to White lawyers, for older women as compared to younger women, and for older racial/ethnic minority lawyers as compared to younger lawyers.

We convert the OR of requesting accommodations from Model 3 in Table 6 into predicted probabilities for nine intersectional identity groupings, as before (see Fig. 3). To calculate these probabilities for each identity characteristic, we again set the other variables in the model at their sample mean. The results show that even though LGBQ lawyers and those with no disabilities have among the lowest probabilities of requesting workplace accommodations (see Fig. 1), they show the highest relative probabilities among the nine identity groups of having their requests granted (96% and 95%). Transgender lawyers and those with disabilities, despite having the highest probability of requesting workplace accommodations, have the lowest relative probabilities of having their requests granted (90%).

Fig. 3
figure 3

Predicted probability of having workplace accommodation request granted by gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, and disability

As in the prior model, we calculate the probabilities of having accommodation requests granted from Model 3 for twenty-four distinct intersectional identity groupings (see results presented in Fig. 6 in the Appendix). The figure illustrates, for example, that although transgender individuals who identify as racial and ethnic minorities and LGBQ and who also have a disability, have among the highest probability of requesting accommodations (see Fig. 5 earlier in the Appendix), they evidence the lowest probability of having their accommodation request granted (14%). This group is followed by men and women who identify as racial and ethnic minorities and as LGBQ, and also have a disability (19%, 43% respectively, at bottom of Fig. 6 in the Appendix).

As referenced above, the top five groups with the lowest probability of having their accommodation request approved are lawyers with disabilities and who are racial and ethnic minorities. Non-Hispanic White women, men, and transgender individuals who identify as LGBQ and who do not have disabilities have the highest probability of having their workplace accommodations granted as compared to the other groups (98%, 98%, 97%, respectively). In Fig. 6 in the Appendix, the top five groups with the highest probability of having their accommodation request approved are all individuals without disabilities. Taken together, the results indicate that lawyers with disabilities are more likely to request accommodations, but, counterintuitively, those are the lawyers who are less likely to have their accommodation request granted. These outcomes are largely moderated by intersectional multiple identities, such as gender and race/ethnicity.

As a final analysis, and as before, we model the probabilities of having accommodation requests granted from Model 3 by age for eight distinct intersectional multiple identity groupings (see Fig. 4). The top panel of Fig. 4 shows that the probability of having accommodation requests granted decreases with age for minority women with and without disabilities, whereas for White non-Hispanic women with and without disabilities the probability remains relatively constant over time.

Fig. 4
figure 4

Predicted probability of having workplace accommodation request granted by age

Considered in light of the prior models testing the probability of requesting accommodations, these results in the top panel of Fig. 4 suggest that while the probability of requesting workplace accommodations increases with age for minority women, the probability of having such requests granted decreases with age. The converse is the outcome for non-Hispanic White women. In addition, the probability of having workplace accommodation requests granted increases with age for LGBQ men with and without disabilities, whereas it decreases for LGBQ women with and without disabilities. These trends are in contrast with the prior models showing that all of these four groups show an increase in the probability of requesting workplace accommodations with age.

Discussion

The findings in this article illustrate the non-monochromatic identities of individuals engaged in the workplace accommodation process, and the effects of such diversity on accommodation outcomes. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first large-scale study to examine in such detail the accommodation request and provision experience from an intersectional perspective.

The preliminary findings show that multifaceted individual identities and organizational factors, as associated with disability, sexual orientation, gender, race/ethnicity, and age, are important in understanding the request for and provision of workplace accommodations. For example, the odds of requesting accommodations are higher for women and people with disabilities as compared to men and those without disabilities, and lower for older people. But the results also indicate that the odds of requesting accommodations are higher for older LGBQ lawyers as compared to younger lawyers.

There may be a number of reasons for these findings, including shifting individual economic power in the lawyer’s firm or health trends over time. Some studies suggest that older LGBQ men experience increased psychological distress and workplace discrimination [66,67,68], poorer physical health, or reduced access to health care resources as compared to their heterosexual counterparts [73, 74]. Thus, they request accommodation to reduce these disparities. Another reason may be that LGBQ people are more likely to keep working as they age as compared to heterosexual individuals [67], but those trends likely vary by job type and organizational factors, and they may be not reflective of the legal profession.

Several of the initial trends observed here comport with those found in prior studies. People with disabilities [9, 12, 14, 24, 29, 30] and women [14, 30, 39, 57] are more likely, in general, to request accommodation. Still, other studies show that gender is not always associated with a higher probability of making accommodation requests [19, 25, 26, 37]. The trend here, if substantiated, may reflect a continued reality of legal and other workplaces: they are typically dominated by White male, middle-aged, and nondisabled individuals. This likely is among the reasons that people with disabilities, women, LGBQ, transgender, and racial/ethnic minorities may request accommodations more often: they are relatively more crucial for their job engagement, tenure and security, career progression, psychological and physical health and safety, and wage equality.

The general effects for age, however, also illustrate that the odds of requesting accommodations are relatively lower for older people. These results are in accord, on the one hand, with studies finding that as employees age, they are less likely to request and receive accommodations; this phenomenon may be a function also of individual economic power in organizations [29]. This may be one reason why, for the present sample of white-collar lawyers in non-physically demanding jobs, the findings here do not comport with studies of cohorts who work in manufacturing or health care sectors that require greater physical demands [29, 40, 41]. Moreover, although the results in this study of accommodation outcomes show that older, and presumably more senior and higher-paid, lawyers overall have better odds of having their accommodations granted, such effects are offset for certain individuals with multiple marginalized identities, such as women and racial/ethnic minorities, whose odds decline with age [13, 29].

In addition, the results indicate that LGBQ lawyers who are racial minorities have lower odds than White LGBQ lawyers of having their accommodation requests granted. These results are in general accord with studies finding that racial minorities are less likely to be accommodated in their jobs [13, 24, 25].

Tellingly, although lawyers with disabilities have one of the highest probabilities of requesting accommodations, they have among the lowest probabilities generally of having such accommodation requests granted. Transgender individuals and racial/ethnic minorities also show as having among the lowest probabilities of receipt of accommodations. Yet studies show that transgender people are almost three times more likely to experience forms of discrimination than are those who do not identify as transgender [75, 76]. These individuals may be more likely to perceive the need for, or require, particular accommodations, such as policy changes or physical changes in their workplaces in support of inclusion.

One prominent explanation for individuals not requesting accommodations from their employers is the potential for stigmatization that is associated with the disclosure process for people with hidden and particular disabilities [77], as well as for others with marginalized multiple identities who may not wish to disclose [45]. Requesting an accommodation typically requires that an individual reveal one’s identity characteristics, whether for disability, sexual orientation and gender identity, or age. The disclosure process—a central element of the accommodation process as mediated by organizational culture and D&I+ practices—is in need of further investigation and will be the subject of forthcoming papers in this series.

The survey on which this study is based also did not distinguish between “formal” ADA versus “informal” accommodations; that is, those accommodations requested under the ADA and those that may not be but are part of organizational practice. In future studies, we will explore differences between such formal and informal accommodation requests and their receipt [78]. Particularly relevant to the health and economic emergency resulting from the pandemic, many organizations now provide informal accommodations and adjustments as part of the “new norm” for health and safety in the workplace. However, if and when the pandemic wanes, the prevalence and nature of these practices will require additional study [85]. The next phase of this project will consider cross-sectional and longitudinal experiences pre-, during, and post-COVID-19 in regard to attitudes and behavior toward accommodations such as remote work and flexible scheduling [19].

In a forthcoming article, we further explore the nature and correlates of reported discrimination and bias as they may be associated with other attitudinal and structural barriers such as not providing accommodations [79]. There is a general need for such study to gain a more informed view of D&I+ across a range of organization and market sectors, as well as looking comparatively across other countries and cultures.

At the time of this writing, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have evolving implications for all employees and their workplaces in terms of workplace accommodations. Associated changes in attitudes, norms, and behavior may not only affect present and future conceptions of work and workplace accommodation, but also, if well-conceived, may accrue to the benefit of individuals who previously have been excluded from the workforce, such as individuals with disabilities and other marginalized identities [80]. The next phase of this program of study will also consider these “new norms” and their association with accommodation, productivity, tenure, and wages, as well as organizational sustainability and D&I+.

Limitations

We have considered elsewhere the strengths and limitations of this program of study [14]. For example, because this project relies on self-reported information in an online survey, there is no way to verify the nature and outcome of the individual reports. The complexity and heterogeneity of the individual experience within the disability and LGBTQ+ communities requires further study, both by using different tools and by investigating within and across workplaces and economic sectors. We have also recognized that the use of overly broad terms such as “disability” and “LGBTQ+” does not adequately acknowledge the unique individual and multiple identities across and within the spectrums of disability, LGBTQ+, and other minority identities [14].

We recognize these limitations cabin our ability to make definitive statements about the representativeness of the survey sample. In certain aspects, the sample is consistent with national labor statistics, but in other aspects it is not, in part due to purposefully oversampling legal professionals with disabilities and those who identified as LGBTQ+. This study also focuses on legal professionals, who generally are higher-paid and -educated White-collar workers, and who are in positions that offer access to job security and economic power. We would have expected enhanced access to accommodations and other benefits of employment for this cohort. The trends we identify here likely will vary for workers in other professions, such as manufacturing or health care, and in lower-paying, and more physically active or precarious, work arrangements [20].

Lastly, despite efforts to sample underrepresented groups, and despite obtaining a relatively large sample overall as compared to prior studies, any attempt to generalize these findings must proceed with caution, given the relatively small number of respondents with multiple minority identities. Nonetheless, we present these complex individual experiences because they remain largely understudied and because they have important implications for the development of research in our program of study and others.

Implications

This study examines workplace accommodation requests and receipt in a conceptual framework of D&I+ in the legal profession. The study considers the dynamic and multidimensional experiences of people with disabilities and who identify as LGBQ, along with others with identities across race/ethnicity, gender identity, and age spectrums. Future articles in this series will examine issues associated with identity disclosure, stigma, and reported discrimination and bias in the workplace. The benefits of this program of study are to bring to the fore, and illuminate, changes over time and circumstance, with the hope that such information will enable organizations to conceive and effect advances in D&I+ to the benefit of both the individuals and the organizations themselves [3, 55, 81,82,83,84].

The issues in this program of study, and related issues, are also being examined in a new national Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Disability Inclusive Employment Policy (“DIEP RRTC”). Over the next 5 years, the new Center will implement a series of scientifically rigorous studies to produce fresh data and evidence to increase the employment of persons with disabilities in all forms [37].

The new DIEP RRTC is forming significant partnerships and bringing together a consortium of nationally recognized and synergized researchers from multiple disciplines including vocational rehabilitation, disability studies, economics, psychology, social work, law and public policy, business, and health policy. The team is comprised of, and directed by, leading members of the disability community. It is complemented by national associations providing unprecedented reach to targeted audiences for knowledge dissemination activities.

Future research by the DIEP RRTC will examine the ways in which organizations of all sizes and types, including those in the gig economy, effectively develop and manage structures to facilitate the inclusive employment of persons with disabilities using the accommodation principle. In light of the profound changes to employment and society generally brought on by the pandemic, it is crucial to examine ways in which new organizational and individual work strategies evolve and incorporate, and sustain, inclusive disability employment policy and practice.