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Determinants of attitudes of New York State employers towards the employment of persons with severe handicaps.


Even in the face of pockets of unemployment, companies at both the national and local level are experiencing a common problem of finding qualified workers and matching available workers to job openings. From the point of view of the economy, this has led to a search for new groups of heretofore untapped potential (Fernandez, 1989). From the point of view of those concerned with new roles for persons with disabilities, it provides a window of opportunity to develop employment for persons with disabilities, two-thirds of whom are presently unemployed (and especially the two-thirds of the unemployed who indicate they would work if work were available) (ICD-Harris, 1987).

In recent years, supported by federal initiatives, there has been a movement towards integrated employment in regular work situations for individuals with mental retardation. As the recent Institute of Medicine report stressed (Pope and Tarlov, 1991), the attitudes of the public, employers, and professionals are among the strongest social and environmental variables constituting barriers to the full participation in society of persons with disabilities. Thus, the success of employment efforts depends on the attitudes of employers. Without favorable attitudes on the part of these "gatekeepers", persons with disabilities may never have the opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities (Florian, 1981).

The Young Adult Institute (YAI) is conducting a program of research regarding the attitudes of employers and professionals regarding the employment of persons with disabilities. As part of this program YAI has conducted a national study of the attitudes of Fortune 500 corporate executives toward hiring persons with severe disabilities that finds favorable attitudes (cf. Levy, Jessop, Rimmerman, and Levy, 1992), but questions remain regarding attitudes of employers in regional, statewide, and local labor markets with which most rehabilitation agencies work. A study of regional and local employers adds to the program of research smaller companies that are not included in the Fortune 500 sample, as well as opening the door to types of industries present in New York State that may be typical of other local and regional labor markets that are served by other rehabilitation agencies. With these concerns in mind a statewide study was developed and conducted cooperatively by YAI and the New York State Office of Vocational and Educational Services to Individuals With Disabilities (VESID).

As with the national study the basic issue was to describe the attitudes of employers toward the employment of persons with severe handicaps, and the factors related to differences among employers in their attitudes toward the employment of persons with severe handicaps. It is important to identify types of employers who are more or less favorable in order to be able to target employer education programs and to make most effective use of job development efforts. This paper presents preliminary data illustrating the types of variation that exist among a group of employers.


Data and Method

A mail questionnaire was developed that included two attitude measures and questions about characteristics of the companies and respondent demographics. The questionnaires were addressed to the company, with the request that the form be turned over to the person responsible for hiring.

This questionnaire was sent in three mailings over the period of August-December, 1988, to a systematic sample of 7,676 companies doing business in New York State, which were over 25% of the approximately 27,000 companies of the TRINET Economic Development Data Base. The post office returned 976 questionnaires as undeliverable; 418 (or 6.2%) completed questionnaires were returned to VESID and forwarded to YAI for analysis.

The response rate was that obtained from a single mailing to each employer as resources were subsequently unavailable to conduct intensive follow-up efforts with non-respondents. Thus the data are considered illustrative of possible trends among employers rather than as definitive or generalizable to the larger population of employers. However, the obtained study group is larger than most of the employer attitude studies in the literature (with a few exceptions) and large enough (N=418) to allow examination of possible subgroup differences among employers that may provide insight for program development for rehabilitation professionals. The assessment was made that these preliminary data are valuable if limited.

Employer Attitudes

The questionnaire contained two structured attitude measures, one on attitudes toward the employability of persons with severe handicaps and one on attitudes toward persons with disabilities more generally rather than just focusing on employment issues.
Table 1
Background Characteristics of the Respondents and Companies (N.
Y. State Data) (N=418)
Characteristics % N
Location -
Downstate 46.0 361
Upstate 54.0
In a city 58.3 379
Not in a city 41.7
Company status -
Profit 86.1 381
Not-for-profit 7.9
Government 6.0
Types of Industry:
Summary -
Industrial 41.1 377
Services 58.9
Detailed -
Agriculture 2.9 377
Mining .3
Construction 6.9
Manufacturing 31.0
Transportation and Public utilities 3.2
Trade (inc. retail) 11.7
Finances, Insurance, Real estate 6.9
Services - Other 37.1
Size -
over 1,000 employees 11.0 382
500 - 999 7.1
100 - 499 29.6
50 - 99 18.6
20 - 49 18.8
10 - 19 8.9
under 10 6.0
Annual sales (median in millions $) - 6.0 253
Sex - Male 63.3 406
Race - White 93.6 404
Education -
High School 15.8 406
College 56.4
Graduate School 27.8
Position -
Dir. of Personnel 27.9 405
Other Managerial 55.8
Other 16.3
Years at Current
Position (median) 10 410
Total Years Work
Experience (median) 20 410
Source: freq.ctl 7/9/89

"Attitudes Towards the Employability of Persons with Severe Handicaps Scale" (ATEPSH) (Pedhazur-Schmelkin and Berkell, 1989)--This scale consists of 32 negatively and positively worded items related to: (1) general concerns regarding the appropriateness of training and placement, types of training, types of employment placements, and rights of individuals with severe handicaps; (2) impact and feasibility of training and employment of individuals with severe handicaps; and (3) impact on employers, non-handicapped persons, and the community at large. Response categories range from 'disagree very strongly' to 'agree very strongly.' A mean score for each factor-based scale was developed.

The factor structure in the present study group is virtually identical to that found by the present research team in the national study of Fortune 500 executives (Levy, Jessop, Rimmerman, and Levy, 1992) and replicating two of the three factors obtained by Pedhazur-Schmelkin and Berkell (1989) with educators. Factor I consists of 15 items concerning the Appropriateness of Competitive Employment; Factor II consists of 7 items focused on the Disadvantages of Competitive Employment With a Focus on Others. Internal consistency reliability analysis produces highly acceptable alphas of .89 for Factor I and .74 for Factor II (Cronbach, 1951).

"Attitudes Towards Disabled Persons Scale" (ATDP) (Yuker and Block, 1986)--The ATDP measures attitudes towards disabled persons in general rather than towards persons with specific disabilities or their employability. A total score was derived according to instructions in the manual (Yuker and Block, 1986). The scores theoretically range from 0 to 180 with normative data indicating a range of 92.7130.8 and a median of 171.1 in 29 studies reviewed. The alphas (Cronbach, 1951) range from .83 -.85 with a median of .84 in three studies. In the present study the ATDP alpha is .85.

The inter-correlations of the three attitude measures described above are moderate: ATEPSH Factor 1 with Factor 2 - .40; ATEPSH Factor 1 with ATDP - .53; ATEPSH Factor 2 with ATDP - .48. (All are significant at p .01.) This suggests that some overlap and some degree of independence exist among the measures.


Characteristics of Employers and Companies

Table 1 presents the background characteristics of the respondents and their companies. Respondents are overwhelmingly white (93.6%), predominantly male (63.3%), and mostly college educated (over 80%). They have been in their present jobs 10 years (median) and have 20 years (median) total work experience.

Over one-half of the companies are service companies. In the detailed categorization by industry approximately one-third (31.0%) are manufacturers. They are approximately equally distributed between counties that represent the downstate area (the five boroughs of New York City, Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, and Rockland) and the rest of the state, and over one-half are located in cities. Over 80% are profit making, with smaller representation from not-for-profit (7.9%) and government (6.0%). Median annual sales is six million dollars. The modal size is 100-499 employees; over 50% of the respondents come from companies with fewer than 100 employees.

The experience of the respondents with disabilities is relevant if it could lead to differences in attitudes. The percents of respondents with a personal disability (5.1%) and/or with disability in the immediate or extended family (21.2%) are somewhat higher than what we would expect on the basis of comparison with external data sources. The U.S. Statistical Abstract (USGPO, 1988) indicates 2.5% of employed managerial and professional workers have a major activity limitation and 14% of all the U.S. population have an activity limitation.

A very high percent (59.5%) of these respondents have had personal experience with employees with disabilities and this experience has been overwhelmingly TABULAR DATA OMITTED positive, or at the very least, neutral. This suggests a possible direction for the difference between the 418 employers who returned the study questionnaire and the very large number who did not, i.e., that these individuals may be more interested or concerned with issues of disability than the employers who did not respond.


Just as found by Pedhazur-Schmelkin and Berkell (1989) and in the YAI Fortune 500 study (Levy, Jessop, Rimmerman, and Levy, 1992), the mean ATEPSH scores are towards the favorable end of the range (1 to 6). In the present study the mean on the Factor I is 4.45 with a standard deviation of .67; the mean for Factor II is 3.38 with a standard deviation of .73.

To give a sense of the content of these scale scores, Table 3 presents the distribution of responses to several key attitude items. Persons responsible for hiring decisions in these companies are positive about the employability of those with severe handicaps. They see them as being dependable, productive workers, who can interact socially and foster positive attitudes on the part of their co-workers, especially when they are supported appropriately.

A major focus of the analyses was to determine which employers were more positive in their attitudes and which were less positive as a basis for program development. Table 2 additionally presents analyses of variance conducted to detect subgroup variations in attitudes towards those with severe handicaps. With the 51 analyses of variance conducted, we would expect less than three tests of the differences in means to be significant on the basis of chance (p .05). Actually 25 or almost one-half are significant indicating that individual and company characteristics make a difference in attitudes. Concentrating on those attributes of employers that produce significant differences on at least two of the three scales, we see that employer attitudes vary as follows:

Company Characteristics

Company Status - The government sector is most favorable and significantly different from the profit-making (on all 3 measures) and not-for-profit sector (on Factor I and Factor II).

Size - Companies with more employees are more favorable (Factor I and ATDP) than those with fewer employees.

Sales - Companies with lower annual sales are more favorable than those with higher sales (Factor I and ATDP).

Individual Characteristics

Sex - Women are more favorable than men (Factor I and ATDP).

Education - College graduates and graduate school attenders are more positive than high school graduates (Factor I and Factor II), and the post hoc differences are significant for Factor I.

Disability Related

Hiring - Respondents who come from companies that have hired employees with severe handicaps in the past three years are more positive on all three measures of employer attitudes than those from companies that have not hired such employees.


Previous experience with persons with disabilities is related to more positive attitudes (all 3 measures). The post hoc comparison between 20+ years and 5-9 years is significant (Factor I and Factor II), and between 20+ years and 5-9 years and 5 years is significant on ATDP.

Evaluation of previous experience - Positive prior employment experience is related to more positive attitudes (all 3 measures). The significant post hoc on Factor II and ATDP is between 1-3 and 4 and 5. Thus the middle group (3) falls with those who are negative.


The present paper has summarized a study of employers conducted by the YAI and New York State VESID on the attitudes of employers doing business in New York State regarding the competitive employment of persons with severe handicaps. The 418 respondents appear to be favorable to the employability of persons with severe handicaps. They see those with severe handicaps as dependable, productive workers, and as able to interact with others, especially when provided with appropriate support services. This would appear to support older data (cf. Florian, 1978) that also find employers positive to persons with disabilities. It runs counter to work that suggests that employers are especially negative to persons with mental retardation (cf. Fuqua, Rathbun, and Gade, 1984) and is especially impressive in view of the concentration in this study on persons with severe handicaps.

Three measures of employer attitudes are reported, one that reports attitudes towards people with disabilities generally (the ATDP), and two factor-based measures from the ATEPSH that are specific to employment-related attitudes. It appears that somewhat clearer distinctions are apparent among employers with respect to Factor I of the employment-related measure, focusing on the Appropriateness of Competitive Employment with an emphasis on the benefits for the individual with disabilities, than with respect to Factor II. Factor II, concerning the Disadvantages of Competitive Employment With a Focus on Others, appears somewhat less clearly differentiated in this group of employers. It could be that attributes that differentiate a sample with respect to attitudes regarding the effects of the employment of a person with severe disabilities on the employment context represent a different set of variables than those that differentiate a sample with respect to attitudes regarding the benefits for an individual. Factor I and the ATDP results appear parallel suggesting that attitudes in general and attitudes regarding employment of the individual are related to similar factors.

Data on the national level from the International Center for the Disabled and the Louis Hams organization (ICD-Harris, 1987), based on a large-scale purposive sample of 921 companies of varied sizes indicate, that top managers, department heads and line managers were favorably inclined to workers with disabilities. They characterize their work as good or excellent, indicate they are no harder to supervise than non-disabled employees, that they work hard or harder than non-disabled employees, and that they are reliable and punctual. The items presented above found a similar pattern of acceptance by employers.

The findings support many results in the literature regarding the attributes of employers who are more or less favorable. Attitudes are more favorable in large companies. There may be a factor related to the range of size represented as a similar effect of size on attitudes was found among the largest national corporations in the Fortune 500 study (Levy, Jessop, Rimmerman, and Levy, 1992).

Although there is a predictable difference between government and for-profits and not-for-profits, there is no significant difference between for-profits and not-for-profits or by specific industry. This may be encouraging for those looking for industry areas that are responsive to persons with disabilities as it may indicate wider possibilities across industries than are heretofore examined.

In terms of the demographic characteristics of employers the literature is also supported. Women have more favorable attitudes than men just as found by others (cf. Eigenbroad and Retish, 1988), and those with higher education have more positive attitudes than those with only a high school education in these data, something over which there is some discrepancy in the literature (cf. Cohen, 1963; Hartlage, 1974; Phelps, 1974; Posner, 1968; Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, n.d.). Younger employers may well have more positive attitudes than older employers as reflected in the fact that those with fewer years experience have more positive attitudes than those with a greater number of years experience and this fits with secular trends in attitudes with increasing levels of education held by younger age groups.

Consistent and clearly patterned responses occur with respect to a set of variables that reflect employers' contact with persons with disabilities. Attitudes are clearly and significantly more favorable among those with previous experience with employees with disabilities, positive evaluation of their previous experiences with employees with disabilities, and in companies that have hired persons with disabilities within the past three years. Some attitudes may be more favorable if the person responding to the questionnaire has had a familiar experience with persons with disabilities. Gruenhagen (1982) in an earlier small (N=24) study of the attitudes of managers of fast food restaurants toward the employment of persons who are mentally retarded also found a positive relation between contact and attitudes. The role of contact is also important in other research (Bluhm, 1977; Cohen, 1963; Florian, 1978; Gruenhagen, 1982; Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, n.d.; Yuker and Hurley, 1987). Any controversy over the positive effect of prior contact is perhaps attributable to the differences in the quality of contact (cf. Bolanovich and Rasmussen, 1968; Eiginbroad and Retish, 1988). The role of contact is well established in the general social psychological literature (cf. Allport, 1954).

As Jones, Gallagher, Kelley, and Massari (1991) point out, it is important to study all aspects of employment (and employment policy) on the local as well as the national level. These results are illustrative of data from one state and complement the results found by the research team at the national level (Levy, Jessop, Rimmerman, and Levy, 1992). In view of the low response rate they need to be replicated in further studies.


Some suggest (Geber, 1990) that the process of integrating persons with disabilities into the workplace be done as part of a larger process of 'managing diversity' in which attention paid to the larger groups of women and racial/ethnic minorities can be subsequently used to the advantage of those with disabilities. The change of culture of the workplace to greater acceptance of difference benefits all minorities. However, it is not sufficient to pay attention to those larger groups as witnessed by the effects of the civil rights legislation of the 1960's and the subsequent need for and passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (1990).

It will be important to attempt to replicate this study in other states and regions. It is particularly important to have information on employer patterns of hiring and attitudes in the local and regional labor markets because the evidence is that there are wide variations in job availability and types of job by region and local area. Further, most vocational rehabilitation programs and employment programs serve local areas and so national figures may be misleading, uninformative, or simply not applicable to them. Further, many companies represented in this sample are too small to be included in large national data bases (such as the Fortune 500 mentioned above). Rehabilitation agencies must consider it part of their mandate to generate or secure, and act on, up-to-date information on the structure of their local and regional job market.

Most of these companies are relatively small. Over 80% have fewer than 500 employees. Service companies and smaller companies warrant special consideration as the number of such companies is large and they are proving to be a source of new jobs. Bowe (1988) indicates that the real source of new jobs has been such small companies, with fewer than 500 workers, almost none of which has had to protect employment rights on behalf of people with disabilities under Federal law. Some of these are too small to even come under the ADA which focuses on employers with at least 15 employees when a typical private service company has 11 workers (Bowe, 1988). Such small companies may need special types of assistance to help them come to the realization of how advantageous it can be to work with persons with disabilities and to reach national employment policy goals (Vandergroot, 1988). Possibilities exist for recruiting, hiring, training, and providing reasonable accommodations through joining forces with other small businesses, through trade/professional associations, or through state vocational rehabilitation agencies, employment, and service organizations. Our present research and its findings regarding the effect of contact on attitudes have multiple potential implications for rehabilitation professionals. Identification of which types of employers are most favorable in attitudes allows targeted programmatic efforts in job development towards those who may be most favorable as well as identifying less favorable employers for whom more education regarding the potential of persons with disabilities will be needed.

Enhancing the employment of persons with disabilities is an endeavor that will take the combined efforts of local government, state government, community leaders, advocacy groups, and rehabilitation agencies, as well as the Federal government, working in conjunction with employers to change attitudes and create job opportunities for people with severe disabilities.

Joel M. Levy, Executive Director, Young Adult Institute, 460 West 34 Street, New York, NY 10001


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Author:Levy, Philip H.
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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