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Improvements in the Workplace for Disabled People


Though far from perfect, the American workplace has shown a number of improvements in accommodating and accepting disabled employees since the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. While assistive technology accounts for some of the improvements, advocacy for the disabled and a general increase in employer acceptance of disabled workers have also led to improved conditions.


Voluntary actions by the nation’s employers and advocacy from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, Women’s Bureau and the Office of Disability Employment Policy have led to increasingly flexible schedules in workplace that have benefited disabled workers, writes Robin Shaffert of the American Association of People with Disabilities in a 2010 Huffington Post article. According to Shaffert, accommodations such as more flexible work hours, protected leaves of absence and the right to decline overtime are necessary to meet the special needs of disabled workers.

Instant Text

Computer Access Real-time Translation (CART), or real-time captioning systems, has become invaluable for deaf and hearing-impaired employees in the workplace. Combining a stenotype machine, notebook computer and real-time computer software, CART converts spoken language into text as it is spoken, enabling employees with hearing limitations to read the transcribed words on their computer monitor or, in conjunction with video images, as captions projected on a screen.


Seven percent of disabled employees worked at least 20 hours of their workweek at home in 2003, compared with 4.1 percent in 1997, according to Douglas Kruse, a human resource management professor at Rutgers University. Telecommuting is on the rise for the nation’s disabled, and for those whose disability keeps them from driving, the Internet can be the difference between employment and unemployment. Depending on future technological advancements, says Kruse, the number of telecommuting disabled workers could rise to 10 percent–or, in the most hopeful forecast, 20 percent by 2013.


Disabled Afghan War veteran Eric Wolfe, of Richmond, Virginia, says that the Wounded Warriors Project probably saved his life. In June 2011, the Wounded Warriors Project of Orlando, Florida, celebrated its 100th employment placement, including Wolfe’s. Through its Warriors to Work program, this national organization provides free counseling and placement for service members injured in the line of duty. The Wounded Warrior Project was founded in 2010.

Highly Educated Yet Under-Employed

In an April 2011 address to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Corporate Disability Employment Summit, disability rights advocate Sen. Tom Harkin, said that although the ADA and special education laws have produced the most highly educated group of disabled workers in American history, two-thirds of this group are unemployed. Further, said Harkin, although the current economy has been tough on all workers, it has been much worse for the disabled. Between 2009 and 2011, for example, one third of all workers who exited the nation’s workforce were disabled. Harkin urged CEOs and managers in the audience to submit ideas–including new legislation proposals–on how to reverse this trend.

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