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Employer agreement with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990: implications for rehabilitation counseling.

Persons with disabilities are substantially under-represented in the United States' labor force. For example, the Bureau of the Census (1987) reported that, of the 13.3 million persons with disabilities of working age in the United States, only 33.6% were participating in the labor force. For nondisabled persons between the ages of 16 and 65, the labor force participation rate was 78%. Discriminatory attitudes held by employers toward persons with disabilities have often been described as contributing to the difficulties that members of this population have experienced in achieving equal employment opportunities (Bolton & Roessler, 1985; Carrell & Heavrin, 1987; DeJong & Lifchez, 1983; Houck, 1987; Jamero, 1979; Lobed, 1985: Pati & Hilton, 1980).

Although Sections 503 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 mandated that agencies and businesses receiving federal funds not discriminate against qualified persons with disabilities in their employment practices and policies (Album, 1988; Susser & Jett, 1988), this legislation did not affect private-sector employers who received no federal funds. Therefore, persons with disabilities have often had no legal protection when confronted with discriminatory employment practices.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), P.L. 101-336, is designed to ensure the integration of persons with disabilities into the mainstream of American society. This legislation prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in four major areas affecting the private sector: (a) employment, (b) telecommunications, (c) transportation, and (d) public services and accommodations. The employment provisions of this legislation, which will become fully effective in July, 1994, will require all employers who have more than 15 employees to provide reasonable accommodation for the known limitations of qualified persons with disabilities and to ensure that their hiring policies and practices are nondiscriminatory (Rovner, 1990).

The ADA promises an unprecedented initiative for providing equal employment opportunity for qualified persons with disabilities in private-sector employment (Doyon, 1990). Implementation of this legislation may be problematic, however, if employers do not agree with its employment provisions. According to Mithaug (1979), disability legislation does not, of itself, change responses to the efforts of persons with disabilities to achieve equal opportunity. Attitude theory indicates that, by understanding an individual's attitudes, information is gained which will help to predict that individual's behavior (Yuker, 1965). If employers do not agree with this legislation, then compliance at more than a minimal level may not be readily achieved without litigation, a process that could prove costly for both employers and persons with disabilities.

The employment community appears to be aware of the ADA and its provisions and concerned about the potential impact of litigation on their business practices (Darkery, 1990; Mandel, 1989; Millar, 1990; Murphy, Barlow, & Hatch, 1990). Knowing employers' agreement with the ADA and identifying employer characteristics predictive of their agreement may help rehabilitation counselors and persons with disabilities develop cooperative, facilitative relationships with employers as implementation of the ADA becomes a reality. The primary purpose of this study was to investigate the extent to which employers agree with the ADA and to identify possible predictors of their agreement. A secondary purpose was to determine if employers differ in their agreement with the four areas of the legislation affecting the private sector (a) employment, (b) transportation, (c) telecommunications, and (d) public services and accommodations.

Identification of Predictor Variables

A review of the business and human-services literature was conducted to identify variables that have been shown to affect attitudes towards and/or employment of persons with disabilities. Variables selected as predictor variables for die present study were gender (Deck, 1986; Krauft, Rubin, Cook, & Bozarth, 1976; Martin, Scalia, Gay, & Wolfe, 1982; Fonosch & Schwab, 1981; Smith, Edwards, Heinemann, & Geist, 1985), subject disability (Elston & Snow, 1986; Fish & Smith, 1983), and contact with persons who have disabilities (Antonak, 1981; Darnell, 1981; Florian, 1978; Fonosch & Schwab, 1981; Holmes & McWilliams, 1981). In this study, contact was defined as having a friend, relative, or close acquaintance with a disability.

Other variables included in the study were type of occupation, size of occupational setting, and the highest level of education of the employer. Harris and Associates (1987), Gade and Toutges (1983), and Combs (1983) found that businesses employing more than 50 employees were more likely to hire workers with disabilities than those having less than 50 employees. In this study, size of occupational setting was defined as small (less than 49 employees), medium (50-999 employees), and large (over 1000 employees). Greenwood and Johnson (1985) arid Harris and Associates (1987) found that manufacturing firms were more likely to hire workers with disabilities than businesses engaged in other work activities. For this study, types of occupations were categorized as manufacturing, service, sales, or other, which included occupations not falling into the other three categories. Gade and Toutges (1983) found that college educated employers were significantly more favorable in their attitudes toward persons with disabilities than were employers having a high school diploma. In this study, educational status was defined as (a) having a high school diploma or less, or (b) having at least a four-year college degree.



The population for this study was employers belonging to the Chambers of Commerce in three counties in the state of Mississippi. From this population, 250 employers were randomly selected for participation in the study. A survey instrument and a demographic information sheet were mailed to the employers in October, 1990. Nonrespondents were mailed a second survey after two weeks. Eighty-five (85) employers responded to the survey for a response rate of 34%.

The majority of the employers were male (89%) and more than one-half (55%) had at least a four-year college degree. A large percentage of the employers (73%) indicated that their businesses employed less than 49 employees. The overwhelming majority (96%) reported having no disability although over one-half (53%) indicated having a friend or relative with a disability. Almost one-half (49%) indicated that their primary business activity was sales whereas 13% were engaged in service occupations and 20% were engaged in manufacturing. Eighteen percent reported that their occupation did not belong to any of these categories.


Data for this study was collected using the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Survey developed by Satcher and Hendren (1991). This instrument contains twelve statements about the ADA with every three statements, or subscales, representing a different area of the legislation. Participants are asked to indicate the extent to which they agree or disagree with these twelve statements using a Likert-type scale, with a rating of 1 = "Strongly Disagree" to a rating of 5 = "Strongly Agree." This instrument is scored by summing the responses to all 12 items, with the highest possible total score being 60. Scores approaching 60 indicate greater agreement with the ADA while lower scores indicate a lesser degree of agreement.

A pilot study using this instrument indicated a Cronbach's alpha reliability coefficient of .85. Subsequent factor analysis indicated that the subscales of this instrument loaded on one factor, with each subscale having a loading value of .60 or greater (Satcher & Hendren, 1991). This instrument appears to adequately measure agreement with the ADA.


In comparison to possible total scores, it appears that the employers participating in this study were relatively moderate in their agreement with this legislation (M = 40.193, SD = 9.348, Maximum Possible Score = 60). Determining whether gender, size of occupational setting, type of occupation, existence of subject disability, contact with persons who have disabilities, and highest level of educational attainment predicted agreement with the ADA was investigated through stepwise multiple regression analysis. Using forced entry, all of the independent variables were entered into the regression equation in six steps. The results of the regression analysis indicated that none of the independent variables accounted for a significant amount of variance in agreement with the ADA. As a group, the independent variables accounted for less than 4% of the variance in agreement with this legislation, leaving 96% of the variance unexplained.

Determining whether the employers differed in their agreement depending on the area of the legislation was answered using t-test comparisons among all possible combinations of the four major areas of the ADA. The results of this analysis are presented in Table 1.

 Table 1

 Multiple Comparisons Among ADA Areas

Areas N M SD t p

Emptot 85 8.777 2.958
Transtot 85 10.376 2.712 -5.94 .000**

Emptot 85 8.777 2.958
Pubtot 85 11.012 2.675 -8.74 .000**

Emptot 85 8.777 2.958
Teltot 85 10.224 2.762 -4.91 .000**

Transtot 85 10.376 2.712
Pubtot 85 11.012 2.675 -2.49 .015*

Transtot 85 10.376 2.712 .53 .596
Teltot 85 10.224 2.762

Pubtot 85 11.012 2.675 3.27 .002**
Teltot 85 10.224 2.224

* p <.05
** p <.01


Emptot = Employment Total
Transtot = Transportation Total
Pubtot = Public Services and Accommodations Total
Teltot = Telecommunications Total

 Possible Total Score for Each Area = 15

The employment area of the ADA was agreed with significantly less than the transportation, telecommunications, and public services and accomodations areas. Both the transportation and telecommunications areas were agreed with significantly less than the public services and accommodations area.


The finding that the employers were only moderate in their agreement with the ADA may mean that greater efforts need to be given to disseminating information about this legislation within the employment community. Public awareness activities may be needed if both employers and the general public are to learn about, understand, and actively support the provisions of the ADA. Rehabilitation counselors can assist in promoting public awareness of this legislation by working with television and radio stations, local chambers of commerce, city and local governments, and newspapers to disseminate information about the ADA. Furthermore, rehabilitation counselors can develop informational packages describing the ADA for dissemination to employers. This means that rehabilitation counselors must become familiar with the provisions of the ADA so that they can serve as resource persons for employers and community members wanting information about this legislation.

It appears that many of the variables that have been shown to influence attitudes toward and/or employment of persons with disabilities did not predict agreement with the ADA. This finding supports the previous work of Satcher and Hendren (1991), who found a lack of significance among predictor variables in a study of personnel management students' acceptance of the ADA and indicates that whatever agreement employers have of the ADA cannot be accounted for by the variables previously studied in acceptance of persons with disabilities. Further research is needed to identify employer characteristics which predict agreement with this legislation. As Martin & Vieceli (1988) indicated, understanding employers is critical if the rehabilitation profession is to enhance the employment of persons with disabilities in the private sector. Understanding employer characteristics which predict agreement with the ADA could help rehabilitation counselors develop and implement educational programs and job placement strategies targeting those employers most likely to be receptive to hiring, or maintaining in employment, workers with disabilities.

The finding that the employers agreed less with the employment area of the ADA than of the transportation, telecommunications, and public services and accommodations areas may mean that employers believe that persons with disabilities should have legal protection from discrimination as long as this protection does not extend to the employment community. If the rehabilitation profession is to help employers learn about, understand, and comply with the employment provisions of the ADA, it appears that educational programs specifically targeting employers need to be developed. Information that might be provided in an educational program includes: (a) definitions of disability, reasonable accomodation, qualified person with a disability, and undue hardship; (b) ADA requirements and compliance; (c) how to conduct job analysis and write accurate job descriptions; (d) costs and resources for job accommodation; (e) the impact of the ADA on preemployment medical and other screening examinations, (f) advantages of hiring persons who have disabilities, and (g) myths and facts about workers with disabilities. All of these topics fall within the expertise of rehabilitation counselors. Rehabilitation counselors and rehabilitation agencies can market this expertise to employers in the form of workshops and staff development programs. Rehabilitation counselors could also market their availability to employers as resource persons through direct marketing tactics, such as brochures mailed to employers and personal visits with employers.


The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is now a reality. As federal legislation protecting persons with disabilities from discrimination in private-sector employment, this legislation is enforceable and compliance will be expected of the employment community. However, compliance with the employment provisions of this legislation may likely be only at a minimally required level unless employers agree with and endorse the intent of the ADA. It appears that much is yet to be accomplished if the employment community is to agree with this legislation. With improved understanding and agreement, it is possible that implementation of the legislation will occur through cooperative planning among the rehabilitation profession, persons with disabilities, and employers.

The ADA is not rehabilitation legislation; rather, it insures the civil rights of persons with disabilities. The rehabilitation profession has, however, a responsibility to both the employment community and persons with disabilities to play a primary role in facilitating the successful implementation of this legislation by providing expertise to employers regarding how they may better serve workers with disabilities.

Further study with larger sample sizes is needed to assist the rehabilitation profession in gaining a greater understanding of employer agreement with the ADA. Also, the present study was conducted in one geographic location, limiting generalizability of the results. The present study does, however, provide an indication that the employment community may be resistant to the intent and provisions of the ADA and points out a need for developing strategies for providing information to employers about this legislation and the availability of rehabilitation counselors to assist them in meeting their responsibilities under the ADA.


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Title Annotation:Employers and Disability
Author:Hendren, Glen R.
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Previous Article:Rehabilitation facilities: preparing for the 21st century.
Next Article:Reaction to disability through organization policy: early return to work policy.

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