Around 66 percent of the U.S. population ages 16 and older with no disability had jobs that year. Only about 23 percent of those with any disability and 17 percent with an employment disability were employed.
A 2005 report Americans With Disabilities showed that the severity of a disability affected earnings and employment. Employed people ages 21 through 64 without a disability had median earnings of $30,470. For a person with a severe disability, median earnings dropped to $17,500 (Graph 1).
Why did disabled workers earn less? Disabled workers have a higher rate of temporary employment which, on average, pays almost half as much as full-time employees. They also tend to work in occupations that pay lower than average wages.
The U.S. Census Bureau asks this question to determine disability status: Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition lasting six months or more, does this person have any difficulty in doing any of the following activities:
- Learning, remembering, or concentrating.
- Dressing, bathing, or getting around inside the home.
- Going outside the home alone to shop or visit a doctor's office.
- Working at a job or business.
A Bureau of Labor Statistics research survey published in the May 2003 edition of Monthly Labor Review identifies people as having a disability if they affirmatively answer this question: "Are you limited in any way in any activities because of a long-term physical or mental impairment or medical condition?" A long-term condition is defined for respondents as "a condition which has already lasted three months, or if it began less than three months ago, can be expected to last that long." This measure is based on the National Health Interview Survey and is consistent with the definition of disability established by the ADA.
Common to all these definitions are the conditions that a disability may be mental or physical and that it significantly limits activity.
Many conditions can be disabling. Graph 2 shows some of the functional limitations of disabilities and the percentage of the U.S. population with the disability. While functional limitations from physical and sensory disabilities may be the more obvious barriers to employment, many other conditions can make it difficult to find or keep a job. Reading disabilities, mental-health problems, chemical sensitivities, and medical conditions may not be as noticeable, but they can be just as limiting.
Graph 3 shows some major categories of disabilities and the percentage of working age Oregonians who have each type. People can be counted in more than one disability category.
About 58 percent of those with a disability reported their impairment created hardships at work. That means some 192,000 Oregon workers ages 16 to 64 in 2007 had a long-term condition that made employment difficult.
Not every disabled worker has an employment disability. An employment disability exists only if a disability makes working more difficult. A person does not have to be working to have an employment disability. In fact, it might prevent them from working.
Graph 4 shows employment levels for Oregonians ages 16 to 64 who had a disability in 2007 and for those in that age group who did not. Oregon's employment participation rates were similar to the nation's. About 64 percent of Oregonians and 66 percent of the U.S. population without a disability were employed. Oregonians with a disability had a slightly higher rate of employment than the national average. About 24 percent of Oregonians with any disability were employed versus 23 percent nationwide.
Management, professional, and related occupations had the fewest disabled workers - less than 5 percent. Occupations that are more physically demanding tend to have higher proportions of workers with employment disabilities. While this may be due partly to higher rates of injury in these occupations, it may also be due partly to other reasons, one of which is the likelihood that a given physical disability could cause more interference with one's work - and therefore be identified as a disability - in a physically demanding occupation than in a sedentary occupation.
Such factors as age, race, and education can influence employment rates and job quality. To compensate for this, researchers collected information on many factors. Then, they adjusted their analysis to remove effects of other factors and examined only the effects of having a disability.
They found that 43 percent of people with a disability held jobs while 73 percent of people without a disability did so. People with a disability lost jobs at twice the rate of people without a disability. People with a disability had higher rates of part-time and episodic employment. They also had shorter job tenure and higher poverty rates and were less likely to be promoted or move to a better job.
Some working conditions also were different for people with disabilities. A relatively large number worked at home and even more performed physical labor. A smaller-than-average share worked as supervisors.
The employment percentage of disabled workers was only half that of people without a disability in traditional, full-time jobs that provided benefits and paid at least 125 percent of the federal poverty level. Of disabled workers, 25 percent held part-time jobs, compared with 17 percent of employed people without a disability - a 50-percent difference. Even so, a higher share of disabled workers reported having psychologically satisfying jobs.
Several Oregon businesses offer specialized training and job coaching services to people with disabilities. Besides helping disabled workers find and keep jobs, these services can reduce company costs associated with new hires. To find out more about the benefits of hiring workers with disabilities, visit these Web sites:
- Oregon Rehabilitation Association, www.oregonrehabilitation.org
- DHS Supported Employment for People with Developmental Disabilities,  www.dhs.state.or.us/dd/supp_emp
- Ticket to Work Program, www.oregon.gov/DHS/vr/employment/tickettowork.shtml.
For assistance in hiring people with disabilities, visit the Employer Services site of the Office of Vocational and Rehabilitation Services at www.oregon.gov/DHS/vr/employment/services.shtml#employers. Also visit the Services for Employers site of the Oregon Commission for the Blind at www.oregon.gov/Blind/employers.shtml.