Increased Employment and Reduced Disparities among People with Disabilities

% Black or African American People with Disabilities Employed


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Story Behind the Curve

Black people with disabilities face substantial hurdles to employment in addition to the many obstacles that all individuals with disabilities experience when seeking work.

Limiting/Negative Factors (Factors pushing the trend down)

  • African Americans are more likely to have a disability than non-Hispanic Whites and Latinos among the working age population.
  • Disability is linked to poverty and race in America – African Americans as a group have on average lower incomes than White people and poorer health status than White people.
    • 37% of African Americans with disabilities live in poverty compared to 24% of non-Hispanic Whites and 29% of Latinos
    • People with disabilities are more likely to be in poverty, and poverty can cause some disabilities (e.g., intellectual disabilities, asthma, chronic illness, lead poisoning, learning problems, low birth weight).
  • Stigma and bias combined with lack of public awareness and/or support for the needs of individuals with disabilities
    • Employer actions – hesitancy to hire people with disabilities because of myths, stigma, or concern over burdensome accommodations
    • Combined racial bias and stigma against people with disabilities – intersectionality
    • Stigma around some disabilities (e.g., mental health disorder, substance use disorder) that discourage people from seeking support services
  • Educational attainment
    • Only 13% of adults with disabilities have a bachelor’s degree or higher but Black people with disabilities are less likely than White people with disabilities to have a bachelor’s degree
    • 21% of adults with disabilities have less than a high school education, compared to 11% of adults with no disability
  • Policy design
    • Disability benefits often hinge on proving that an individual can’t work, creating a difficult economic choice for individuals who would like to seek employment
    • Working may lead to the loss of critical benefits and support services
  • Physical factors
    • Lack of accessible and affordable transportation options
    • Limited availability of accessible technology and workforce accommodations

Positive Factors (Factors pushing the trend up)

The factors in this section are positive where they are available, but they are not available everywhere. Substantial state, regional or neighborhood disparities that disproportionately affect communities of color mean that programs, services and infrastructure may not exist in areas with the greatest need.

  • Workforce
    • Availability of support for entrepreneurship or self-employment support
    • Availability of K-12 special education programming
    • Availability of targeted workforce intermediaries, incumbent and new training programs, and skill development services
    • Accessible career readiness programs
    • Availability of inclusive apprenticeships
    • Access to remote work
  • Physical factors affecting the employment gap
    • Accessible and affordable transportation
    • Availability of accessible technology and workplace accommodations
  • Policy and governance factors affecting the employment gap
    • Federal and state disability hiring incentive programs
    • Inclusion in the civil sector workforce – jobs and careers in public service for people with disabilities; being a “model employer.”
    • Workers’ compensation and rehabilitation programs – “back-to-work” programs
    • Vocational rehabilitation and disability employment service provider availability and effectiveness
    • Stay and work and return to work policies
    • Effective wrap-around services and streamlining and coordination of services

Priority Factors

  • Stigma/lack of public awareness and/or support for individuals with disabilities
  • Combined racial bias and stigma against people with disabilities – intersectionality
  • Employer actions – hesitancy to hire people with disabilities related to stigma/myths/lack of awareness
  • Policy design that discourages work and/or reduces the ability to seek employment by limiting critical benefits  
  • Making existing programs more equitable – especially targeted workforce development and skill development services,  career readiness programs, hiring incentives, and access to assistive technology and workplace accommodations
  • U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and ODEP partners à leadership, research, and advocacy
    • ODEP Partners:
      • American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity
      • American Staffing Association
      • Association of University Centers on Disabilities
      • Disability: In
      • National Industry Liaison Group
      • Society for Human Resource Management
      • Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA)
      • National Association of State Workforce Agencies (NASWA)
      • National Association of Governors' Committees on People with Disabilities
      • National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities (NOND)
      • Partnership for Public Service
      • HSCF/Collaborative
      • Youth Transitions Collaborative/The Center for Health Care Transition Improvement
      • Families and Work Institute (FWI)
  • State departments of rehabilitative services à workforce development, employer relations, and job opportunities
  • State, regional and local career services centers and American Jobs Centers àworkforce development, employer relations, and job opportunities
  • State and local government offices of disability services à workforce development, employer relations, and job opportunities
  • State and local economic development organizations à workforce development, employer relations, and job opportunities
  • Community colleges and institutions of higher education à workforce development, job opportunities, career mentoring, connecting people to services
  • Operation HOPE à advocacy, workforce development, financial coaching, entrepreneurship support, services
  • National Disability Institute à advocacy
  • American Association of People with Disabilities à advocacy
  • National Council of State Legislatures à state policy guidance
  • Council of State Governments à state policy guidance
  • Unity Summit à policy/philanthropic leadership
  • Congressional Black Caucus and National Black Caucus of Legislative Leaders à policy leadership
  • Faith-based organizations and housing authorities à outreach and engagement
  • Chambers of commerce, including minority and ethnic chambers à outreach and engagement
  • Community-based organizations, especially those providing services to individuals with disabilities (e.g., Melwood, The Arc) àoutreach and engagement; services.
What Works

Evidence based

  • Hiring incentives
    • Incentive policies are supported by the Council of State Governments National Task Force on Workforce Development for People with Disabilities
    • Several states already have such incentives, but they tend to be very lightly used, limiting their impact
    • Academic research has generally found financial incentives for hiring workers with disabilities to be effective, with important caveats around implementation
      • Policymakers and leaders need to engage with employers and the private sector to dispel myths, identify barriers, and collaborate to improve employment outcomes.
      • Incentive programs need to align with employer needs and motivations (e.g., incentive programs for purchasing accessible technology).
    • Many employers are already familiar with the Federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit, which was reported by the National Conference of State Legislatures to be an effective labor policy for getting individuals into jobs, but with modest impact because of the size of the program relative to the pool of potential applicants
  • Increased awareness and support for hiring people with disabilities by leadership and policymakers, including “making the business case” for hiring people with disabilities
    • Also actively promoting existing or new incentive programs
  • Improved workforce development system services that fully incorporate and address the needs of individuals with disabilities seeking employment, including coordination with services and benefits programs – make services more centralized according to regional capabilities
    • Facilitate and fund skill development, career awareness, and job support through work-based learning and meet business workforce needs – e.g., inclusive apprenticeships
    • Target youth, provide workplace pathways for youth with disabilities
    • Recognize that not all disabilities are the same (different disabilities require different support) and integrate solutions into programming

Low-cost/No-cost options

  • State and local outreach and awareness initiatives among service organizations, employers and individuals
  • Bring together the national policy communities representing people with disabilities with organizations representing people of color, as recommended by the National Disability Institute, to raise the conversation to a higher level

Big Picture/Policy Options – Government

  • Integrate financial capability into social and human service delivery, as recommended by the National Disability Institute
  • Reform (and blend) disability and welfare programs to better suit people with disabilities who can and want to work
  • Ensure accessible, available, reliable, affordable transportation
  • Promote accessibility in the workplace – information and communication technology in the workplace
  • Improve and make accessible affordable housing, infrastructure, and physical design
  • Make environmental health and safety a priority (e.g., rehabilitate homes with lead-based paint)
  • Expand stay-at-work and return-to-work support programs for individuals with disabilities
  • Support self-employment and entrepreneurship

Off the wall ideas

  • Leverage new Community Reinvestment Act rules regarding coverage of LMI individuals with disabilities, an idea raised by the National Disability Institute

Information needed for research 

  • More research is needed on state, regional and local variations in employment dynamics by race and ethnicity among individuals with disabilities. This research is important because programs and services provided at the state and local level should be appropriate for each community, adapted to meet the needs identified for each location, and offered by local partners.



Strategies to Reduce Racial Disparities

Organizations Responsible (proposed)

Raise awareness of the racial disparity and reasons for it. Share data findings to spark action.

ODEP, ODEP partners, and other national groups like NDI

Reexamine existing disability programs and services to ensure they reach and address the needs of Black individuals with disabilities seeking employment.

  • Think holistically – across programs and agencies
  • Listen to community needs and build trust, recognize and actively seek multiple voices
  • Evolve engagement from informing to listening, learning and partnering

State and local government offices of disability services, community health services, social service agencies, and economic or community development organizations


Reexamine workforce development practices so that they fully incorporate and address the needs of individuals with disabilities seeking employment

NASWA, American Job Centers, departments of rehabilitative services - state and local levels

Address the risk of benefit loss vs seeking work in policy rules

Federal and state elected leaders via groups such as the Congressional Black Caucus, National Black Caucus of Legislative Leaders, NCSL, CSG


Redesign, expand and promote effective hiring incentives

Smart Incentives, CSG, NCSL

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