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Employer concerns regarding workers with disabilities and the business-rehabilitation partnership: the PWI practitioners' perspective.

This study reports the findings of a national survey of Projects With Industry (PWI) placement specialists' perceptions of the concerns employers have about workers with disabilities and their interest in collaborative job development and placement activities. Study participants were asked to indicate how they expected typical employers to respond to concerns such as work performance ability and assistance in job accommodations. The survey yielded a 44% return rate across 232 PWIs. While the PWI placement practitioners expected employers to have significant concerns about workers with disabilities across a number of employment issues, they anticipated that employers would be interested in specific technical assistance services such as return-to-work interventions for mid-career disabled workers, job accommodations strategies, and disability awareness training.

In 1968 Congress established the Projects With Industry (PWI) program to promote partnerships between business and industry, in part because of the costs of disability and the unemployment experience of workers with disabilities. The PWI concept promotes collaborative efforts between public and private sectors to provide training and services to individuals with disabilities. The ultimate objective is placement in competitive employment.

Rehabilitation professionals working in PWIs generally are in direct contact with employers in business and industry. They may be marketing their organizations' services, teaching job-related skills in worksites, or developing client-job matches. Whatever the particular model, PWI practitioners can be expected to be familiar with the concerns and practices of employers in regard to the employment of workers with disabilities. Thus, their perspective on employer concerns should be of particular interest to the business community, rehabilitation practitioners, rehabilitation administrators, and disability policy makers.

The purpose of this article is to convey the findings of a nationwide survey of PWI practitioners conducted by the Arkansas Research and Training Center in Vocational Rehabilitation. ne survey was done within the context of a project to study employer receptivity to workers with disabilities that made similar inquiries of rehabilitation counselors (Schriner, Greenwood & Johnson, in press) and employers (Greenwood, Johnson & Schriner, 1988; Johnson, Greenwood & Schfiner, 1988) in a two-state area.


PWIs listed in the 1984 International Projects With Industry Directory were asked to take part in the survey. Questionnaires were distributed in September 1985, to the 232 PWIs identified in the Directory, and 102 (44%) responded. PWIs from 32 states and the District of Columbia participated. The cover letter accompanying the questionnaire requested that the individual with the best knowledge of local employers complete the information, and respondents received two complimentary publications on placement and labor market trends from the research and training center when they returned a completed survey.

The respondents were asked to evaluate the probable reaction of a typical employer in their locale to the employment of workers with disabilities. A 90-item questionnaire included three checklists and eight five-point rating scales devoted to two major topics: (a) employer concerns about workers with disabilities, and (b) factors related to the provision of technical assistance and other job development and placement services to employers. Participants were given the option of recording suggestions and experiences and organizations found useful in placement. This article, however, reports only the responses to checklist and rating items.

The questionnaire was designed to elicit responses to four broad groupings of disabilities defined in terms of functional limitations rather than global disabilities to avoid stereotypes frequently associated with diagnostic labels. The disability descriptors used were (P) physical handicap characterized by incoordination, limitations of stamina, susceptibility to fainting, dizziness, seizures, difficulty in lifting and reaching with antis, using upper extremities, or using lower extremities; (M) mental handicap- difficulty in learning new tasks, or interpreting information; (E) emotional handicap- alcohol/drug dependence, harmless, irregular behavior, or difficulty in interpersonal relationships; and (C) communication handicap- limitations of hearing, sight or speech. The survey results are reported by the ten topics below.


Anticipated Concerns about Workers with Disabilities

Table 1 presents the results of recruitment and selection, workforce acceptance, willingness to hire by position type, and effect of disability on work performance. The data reflect the percentage of respondents providing negative ratings ratings of 4 and 5 on a 5-point scale).

Recruitment and selection. Respondents were asked to rate the difficulty perceived by the typical employer in recruiting, interviewing, and testing applicants with disabilities. As Table I indicates, the PWI practitioners expected the typical employer to have the most difficulty in recruiting and selecting persons with communication disabilities, less difficulty with applicants with emotional and mental disabilities, and least difficulty with those who are physically disabled.

Willingizess to hire by type of position. PWI practitioners generally expected that employers would be much more willing to hire persons with physical disabilities for professional and managerial positions than applicants with other kinds of disabling conditions. The same employer preference for hiring those with physical disabilities was anticipated for technical, clerical, and sales positions. Employers were believed to be willing to hire about equally across types of disabilities for production positions.

Work force acceptance. Most of the ratings indicated that work force acceptance was considered as a mild to moderate concern. The pattern of responses suggests that the practitioners viewed employers as expecting the most acceptance for workers with physical disabilities while acceptance for workers with the three other disability types was thought to present mild to moderate level difficulties. The lone exception to mild concerns about the acceptance of workers with physical disabilities is for unions. This finding may represent a lingering perception that employers will cite unions as a barrier to employment.

Work performance. PWI practitioners anticipated less employer concern along work performance dimensions for persons with physical disabilities, more for persons with communication disabilities, and still more for employees with mental and emotional disabilities. Respondents expected serious employer concern about flexibility and advancement for people with mental disabilities, and about absenteeism and tenure for people with emotional disabilities.

Comparisons to nondisabled workers. The respondents were asked how the typical employer would compare workers with various types of disabilities to nondisabled workers, a more traditional form of comparison in research of this type. The following reflects the percentages of employers who rated the groups either inferior to or somewhat below average (the two negative ratings on a 5-point scale where 1=inferior and 5=superior) when compared to non-disabled workers:
96% serious emotional disorder
87% blindness
84% cerebral palsy
81% mental retardation
81% quadriplegia
69% deafness
68% learning disability
64% back ailment
62% epilepsy
59% paraplegia
56% mild emotional disorder
36% amputation of one leg
15% diabetes
7% peptic ulcer

Employer Involvement in Partnerships

Practitioners were asked to respond to questions about technical assistance and other job development and placement services provided to employers. These ratings provide some assessment of how PWI practitioners believe employers react to rehabilitation agencies and rehabilitation professionals. Results in five areas of interest are presented below.

Employment program for workers with disabilities. The survey addressed respondents' perceptions of employer concerns in implementing an employment program for workers with disabilities. Table 2 displays the practitioners' ratings. None of the items were thought to pose serious concern, and only four involved moderate levels of concern. These four factors are not thought to present major problems for employers.

Sources of technical assistance for employment programs. Table 3 provides information on technical assistance sources practitioners thought employers would likely use. Employers were believed to have a strong preference for internal sources for job identification/analysis and implementation of affirmative action programs. Employers were thought to be more willing to turn to a public or private rehabilitation organization for job modification and restructuring, accessibility modifications, and disability awareness training.

Usefulness of technical assistance and services. In addition to inquiries about sources of assistance, the respondents were asked to evaluate the usefulness to the typical employer of specific services and technical assistance activities. Adding the two most positive ratings (very useful to extremely useful), the practitioners rated the services in the following order:

* referrals of disabled persons who are job ready (79.4%)

* disability awareness training for employees (71.6%)

* help in acquiring special tax incentives and wage subsidies (70.6%)

* rehabilitation employment specialists who are professionals and maintain an appearance suitable to the business community (67.3%)

* rehabilitation employment specialists with first hand knowledge of employer's operations (64.7%)

* establishing a continuing personal relationship between practitioner and employer (63.7%)

* consultation on job modification (63.7%)

* assistance with employees who become disabled while employed (62.7%)

* rehabilitation employment specialists knowledgeable about worksite accessibility (58.8%)

* advice on architectural barrier removal (49.5%)

* consultation on affirmative action and non-discrimination hiring policies/practices (31.4%)

Incentives for employers to hire workers with disabilities. The survey dealt with assessment of six factors that employers could view as incentives to employing workers with disabilities. Respondents were asked to check items perceived to be incentives. The following results indicate the percentages of respondents checking each potential incentive:

* on-the-job training funds to help pay salary of newly employed person with a disability (95%)

* tax credits (94%)

* available supply of employees trained and prepared for work (92%)

* ability to comply with legal requirements for affirmative action (66%)

* ability to report to others that employer has workers with disabilities in the organization (63%)

* self-satisfaction realized from employment of workers with disabilities (51%)

Return to work strategies. Table 4 summarizes the responses to questions regarding 19 procedures employers would typically use in accommodating workers who become disabled during employment.

The six most frequently used procedures are provided in the table. Across the disability groups, employers favored (a) using external resources, and (b) allowing the employee to return to work in either the same or a comparable position, or part-time.

Activities not reported in the list, that were infrequently checked across groups, were job sharing, reduced workloads, retention of the person as a consultant, assistance by other employees and employer provision of special transportation. In examining the responses across the 19 items by disability types, employers were seen as willing to use more procedures for physical and communication disabilities than for emotional and mental disabilities (means for perceived use for the 19 items by groups were P = 51.00, C = 46.11, E = 34.79 and M = 32.00).

Discussion and Conclusions

This study was conducted to assess how placement specialists who are actively working in special projects to place workers with disabilities viewed the opinions of "typical" employers to a variety of job development and placement issues. The findings of this study provide some insight into (a) concerns employers are expected to have about workers with disabilities, and b) the interest employers have in specific job development and placement services.

With regard to employers' concerns, PWI practitioners expected employers to respond differently to people depending on the type of disability they have. Applicants and employees with physical disabilities are viewed more favorably than those with mental, emotional, or communication disabilities on almost every aspect of recruitment, selection, acceptance, and performance expectation. These results indicate that placement practitioners should expect to encounter differential responses from employers, and that stereotypes of "disability as equal to inability" continue to exist among many employers. Rehabilitation specialists and other advocates must continue their efforts to create a more receptive employment climate, and these survey findings reflect specific areas for emphasis.

Although the findings about workers with disabilities reveal that employers have continuing concerns about their employability, the survey results indicate employer interest in services that placement specialists can offer. This interest could be the entree to the development of partnerships where resistance can be overcome, and an array of services can be provided to benefit both workers with disabilities and employers. The respondents did not see affirmative action implementation as a significant problem, and employers were seen as receptive to assistance from public or private rehabilitation organizations for job modification and restructuring, accessibility modifications and disability awareness training. This may be an excellent beginning for job development work that establishes the foundation for future placements. Also, employers are perceived to be interested in keeping employees who become disabled, and in using external resources to facilitate continued employment. Many were seen as willing to examine internal organizational options such as assignment to comparable positions or job restructuring. The perceived use of referrals to outside organizations and the provision of release time for treatment or therapy indicates that employers would call on rehabilitation organizations, given sufficient trust and confidence in their ability to be of service.

In conclusion, it appears that PWI placement specialists expect their work to be challenging in that they anticipate employers to have significant concerns about workers with disabilities. However, employers are seen as receptive to services in a number of areas, especially in the return to work of employees who become disabled. Establishing viable return to work service programs that include technical assistance and consultation to employers could provide the base for placement opportunities for many workers with disabilities.


Greenwood, R., Johnson, V.A., & Schriner, K. (1988). Employer perspectives on employer-rehabilitation partnerships. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, 19, (1), 3-7.

Johnson, V., Greenwood, R., & Schriner, K. (1988). Work performance and work personality: Employer concerns about workers with disabilities. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 32, 50-57.

Schriner, K., Greenwood, R., & Johnson, V. A. (in press). Counselor perceptions of employer concerns about workers with disabilities and employer rehabilitation partnerships. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin.
Received: March 1989
Revised: June 1989
Accepted: July 1989

COPYRIGHT 1991 National Rehabilitation Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Projects with Industry
Author:Johnson, Virgini Alma Fairfax
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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