Abstract

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for any qualified individual with a disability. By examining the ongoing evaluation data from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), this study seeks to investigate whether or not gender differences are present in the reasonable accommodation process. Open and closed-ended data are collected using a 20-minute structured telephone interview of JAN customers (n= 1,247; 44% response rate). The results show very few differences between men's and women's accommodation request types, whether or not accommodations were granted, the costs of requested accommodations, and satisfaction with JAN. A significant difference, however, was found by gender on the effectiveness of the accommodation.


Employment Accommodations for People with Disabilities: Does Gender Really Matter?

According to a 2011 report by the World Health Organization, over one billion individuals worldwide are estimated to live with some form of disability, which equates to approximately 15 percent of the world's population. In the United States, people with disabilities represent a largely untapped pool of labor. In the U.S. in 2009, there were approximately 19.5 million non-institutionalized working-age people with disabilities. Of those, about 12.7 million were unemployed, while 6.8 million were employed (Brault, 2010). People with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed as people without disabilities.

In an attempt to improve the occupational endeavors of individuals with disabilities, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was passed by the United States Congress and signed into law by President George H. W. Bush. Similar to civil rights laws that were passed over the preceding 25 years, which upheld the rights of women and ethnic minorities, this legislation protects individuals with disabilities from facing discrimination in virtually all realms of life, such as travel, communications, leisure, and work. In terms of employment, qualified individuals with disabilities are protected from on-the-job discrimination, as procedures outlining the criteria for application, hiring, advancement, firing, workers' compensation, and job training cannot be determined based on the presence of a disability.

Under the ADA as amended, in order to be considered to have a disability, an individual must exhibit some form of physical or mental impairment that substantially limits his or her functioning in one or more major life roles (2008). Title I of the ADA additionally requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to any qualified individual with a disability who may be either applying for a job or already working with this company, agency, etc. Reasonable accommodations are changes that can be made in the work environment or in the way a job is currently executed so that individuals with disabilities can be ensured an equal playing field in terms of employment opportunities. The term 'reasonable accommodation' specifies that an accommodation does not necessarily have to be made if doing so would pose undue hardship to an employment establishment and its workers. Examples of reasonable accommodations include providing an interpreter during meetings for those with hearing impairments, modifying or purchasing specialized equipment for those with a physical, sensory or cognitive limitations, modifying a work schedule, and making existing facilities more accessible for workers (i.e., building a wheelchair-accessible ramp).

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN), which is funded by the United States Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), serves as an invaluable resource for employers and employees alike. According to JAN's mission statement, "JAN helps people with disabilities enhance their employability, and shows employers how to capitalize on the value and talent that people with disabilities add to the workplace" (2012). The JAN website offers comprehensive information on the definitions of disabilities, the legal mandates regarding the ADA and other disability-related legislation, and the reasonable accommodation process. Individuals may not only utilize the online resource but also communicate with JAN consultants over the phone, through email correspondence, or in live-chats on the website.

This study seeks to fill in the gaps in the professional literature on workplace accommodations for individuals with disabilities. Namely, it aims to investigate whether or not gender differences are present in the reasonable accommodation process. Do gender differences exist in regards to the amount and types of accommodations requested? Are women more likely than men to request expensive accommodations? Are men more likely than women to experience positive accommodation outcomes? Are men and women equally satisfied with the experience? The analysis herein examines gender differences for 1,247 individuals who utilized the Job Accommodation Network to obtain help during the reasonable accommodation request process.

Literature Review

Workplace Accommodation Requests and Outcomes

While literature on workplace accommodations has become more prevalent over the last several decades, large gaps continue to be evident. For instance, the role of gender in the accommodation process is rarely discussed. As a result, this paper seeks to analyze if any gender disparities exist in terms of the types, costs, and outcomes of requested accommodations. Limited research is currently available that specifically discusses the role of gender in determining accommodation requests. Balser (2007) outlines a number of factors, which may either increase or decrease one's likelihood of making an accommodation request. For instance, membership in a union, public versus private sectors, and employee input into the accommodation process have been found to predict whether or not an accommodation will be requested and/or granted. Harlan and Robert (1998) outline two barriers to requesting reasonable accommodations: employer's reluctance to recognize disabilities and the exploitation of the knowledge-resource differential between employers and employees. Employers may discourage or disqualify an individual from requesting an accommodation by claiming he or she does not actually have a disability and consequently has no grounds for making a request. When considering the knowledge-resource differential, one in three employees were unaware of the laws protecting against discrimination of those living with disabilities, so employers could interpret the ADA according to their best interests (Harlan & Robert, 1998). In their research, Sirvastava and Chamberlain (2005) noted that disabled employees felt their employers were insensitive and held negative views about them. For example, some disabled workers expressed views that their employers appeared ignorant of their employees who had disabilities; furthermore, in the workplace, stigma associated with disability was present.

Harlan and Robert (1998) additionally explored the question of who actually requests reasonable accommodations and found that women are more likely than men to make such requests, as women's disabilities may be more incompatible with their work responsibilities than are men's. Employees may be reluctant to admit - to themselves, to colleagues, and to the employer - that they have a disability, or to request accommodations, because they fear that the claim will not be taken seriously, that they will be labeled a "complainer" who is just trying to "get out of work", or they will lose their jobs (Harlan & Robert, 1998). Many employees who have disclosed their disability at work wish they had not (McMullin & Shuey, 2006). While numerous articles could be found delineating the determining factors of whether or not an accommodation request will be made, virtually no literature mentioned gender differences.

Accommodation outcomes is another relatively sparse area of research in professional literature. Charles (2004) sought to analyze if the outcomes of requested accommodations differed before and after the passage of the ADA in 1990. He found a majority of workers were not accommodated by their employers during both periods. Only 28 percent were accommodated before and only 32 percent were accommodated after the passage of the ADA, and most of these requests had to do with time (i.e., changing arrival/departure time and allowing more breaks). Additionally, if an employee developed a disability while working for an organization, 71 percent no longer worked at their place of employment one year later. While this study did not seek to uncover gender differences in accommodation outcomes, it did reveal that men, particularly those who are both Caucasian and highly educated, are more likely than are women to remain on-the-job after a disability develops.

Harlan and Robert (1998) offer a possible interpretation of why 31 percent of the individuals in their study were denied the accommodations they requested. Low-grade workers were found to be more likely to be denied than high-grade workers when making requests; perhaps employers may make judgments based on how expendable a particular employee is. More specifically, high-grade workers may be seen as more valuable because they possess specialized knowledge and are more visible, while low-grade workers are assumed to be easier to replace than to accommodate. These authors found a slight gender difference in the workers who requested accommodations: 33 percent of women compared to 24 percent of men were rejected (Harlan & Robert, 1998). Unfortunately, women tend to hold lower-paid and lower-status positions than do men. Furthermore, women may be more apt than men to request time accommodations, such as changes to schedules, which were found to be more often rejected than changes to physical environment (i.e., furniture, equipment, or surroundings). As a result, it may be imperative to delve into whether or not gender differences exist in the outcomes of accommodation requests.

The Differential Experiences of Women in the Workplace

As people live longer and chronic diseases become more prevalent, it is to be expected that an increasing proportion of the workforce will experience some form of disability (Banks & Lawrence, 2006). However, disability is not experienced equally by all. Women with disabilities have historically been neglected by those concerned with issues of disability as well as the feminist movement. It is only within the last decade that serious attempts have been made to identify and understand the forces shaping their lives. These attempts have mainly focused on understanding how being female and having a disability interacts and how women with disabilities view their experiences. This decade of writing has provided personal accounts as well as research-based information about the social situation of women with disabilities and a framework to understand and to interpret their lives and experiences. Despite the limited scholarship, it provides both the basis and the promise for future advances. Women with disabilities are a vulnerable and marginalized group in today's society. As such, there is a need to develop a better understanding of their lives in order to remove the obstacles that still remain in their path to equality.

Research by McMullin and Shuey (2006) noted that gender structures are embedded in the workplace, generating very different employment experiences for men and women. In the workforce, women tend to be segregated by occupation (e.g., social work or nursing vs. engineering), position (e.g., support personnel vs. manager), and organization type (e.g., educational vs. transportation facility) (Alkadry & Tower, 2013, 2011). Women may earn less money than their male counterparts either directly because of their gender or indirectly because of an intervening variable (e.g., the amount of authority women are given, which is linked to sex) (Alkadry & Tower, 2006, 2011). There is evidence that women's jobs are the least flexible and are characterized by higher supervision, lower autonomy and lower flexibility in scheduling (Phillips & Phillips, 2000). The devalued position of women in society and the workforce may contribute to what assistance those with disabilities ask for and receive from employers. Research on workplace accommodations in the United States has shown that women are more likely than men to have requests for job modifications denied (Harlan & Robert, 1995).

Traustadottir (1990) noted that although men and women with disabilities are subject to discrimination because of their disabilities, women with disabilities are at a further disadvantage because of the combined discrimination based on gender and on disability. While men with disabilities have serious employment problems, women with disabilities are significantly worse off, and this seems to be true for all types and levels of disabilities (Traustadottir, 1990). In the year 2011, an estimated 35.9 percent of non-institutionalized men with a disability, ages 21-64, in the United States were employed, compared to 31.1 percent of women (Erickson, 2013).

The above findings indicate that the apparent impact of discriminatory attitudes and unfriendly work environments may possibly contribute to people with disabilities remaining unemployed or having difficulty keeping a job and progressing in their careers. The discipline of social work offers an important vantage point to understand how accommodation practices are implemented and how individuals' experiences in the workplace compare; however, more research is needed to understand the barriers that exist in terms of the inclusion of people with disabilities in work situations. It is hoped that this research can contribute to this understanding.

Methodology

This paper explores one component of an on-going evaluation project (Funded by the Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor, Grant Number OD-23442-12-75-4-54), which is conducted on behalf of the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). JAN has refined its mission in many ways, now serving as the nation's most comprehensive resource on workplace accommodations in support of increased employment opportunities for persons with all types of disabilities. JAN consultants provide individualized and confidential accommodation information and advice to private and federal employers, rehabilitation and service providers, individuals with disabilities, and their family members.

Data for the evaluation were collected using a structured telephone survey that contained both open and close-ended questions, which are posed to JAN customers. The survey was designed and approved by the Office of Disability Employment Policy and the Office of Budget and Management (Control Number 1225-0059). The purpose of the survey was to collect satisfaction data from customers, as well as information regarding the accommodation process. Interviews lasted about 20 minutes. The survey instrument used a variety of question formats (Likert scales, forced-choice lists, and open-ended questions). The evaluators were unable to access certain information, which were not included on the instrument, such as assistance received, disability type, duration of process, number of times a customer utilized the JAN service, and industry of employment.

On completion of service, JAN consultants asked if customers were willing to receive a follow-up phone call to complete the evaluation survey. The research team then attempted to contact all who agreed to participate and prompted them to recall the specific case for which they used JAN services (some might be repeat customers, depending on employment status). Some chose not to participate or were not able to be reached after the fifth or sixth call. For this article, only the data collected from individuals with disabilities are presented and analyzed using SPSS. Frequencies, chi-square, and ANOVA were run. The data for this article represent the data collected from July 2009 through September 2012. This includes data regarding demographics (e.g., age, sex, race, income, and length of time in employment) as well as accommodation decisions and solutions. Satisfaction with Web-based and telephone consultation, an additional component of the survey, was captured as a part of the accommodation process.

For this article, only the data collected from individuals with disabilities are presented and analyzed using SPSS. Frequencies, chi-square, and ANOVA were run. The data for this article represent the data collected from July 2009 through September 2012. This includes data regarding demographics (e.g., age, sex, race, income, and length of time in employment) as well as accommodation decisions and solutions. Satisfaction with Web-based and telephone consultation, an additional component of the survey, was captured as a part of the accommodation process.

Open-ended responses are also presented. These data were collected by the interviewer, who attempted to record verbatim the responses of customers. These notes were entered into the SPSS database. Frequencies for all responses to questions regarding why an accommodation was not made were then examined. These data were coded based on theme and frequency of theme. The evaluators' initial codes were then reviewed by interviewers and JAN staff to check for consistency, utilizing their experience of both providing service and collecting data.

Although an important contribution to the research, this study is not devoid of limitations. First, the customers of JAN are likely to be those highly involved in the accommodation process, whether or not their experiences were successful. Second, the use of a telephone survey limits the response rate: with caller ID, many potential participants may not answer the phone. Third, the accuracy of the data is dependent on the interviewer. Although trained, it is difficult to capture verbatim the complexities of the stories of the accommodation process. There are also components important to the accommodation process that are not captured by this survey; for instance, as previously stated, the evaluators do not have access to disability type or industry.

Sample

The sample consists of 1,247 cases, representing a 43.9% response rate. Of the participants, 31.8% were male and 68.2% female. While much of the literature on employment for people with disabilities discusses the hiring process, the majority of callers responded that the reason for contacting JAN was to discuss on-the-job accommodations in order to retain employment (80% of callers; 77% of men and 82% of women), rather than finding employment (4.1% of callers).

Of interest is the "Other" category. This includes callers who had not requested an accommodation, were calling solely for information, or called regarding another issue that did not pertain to employment accommodations. In this category, there appears to be a gender difference: women (13.1%) and men (17.9%). For men, the main reason for selecting "other" was due to not requesting an accommodation. This will be explored and discussed further later in the paper.

In order to continue to assess if accommodation differences exist between men and women, it is also important to consider demographic characteristics associated with employment attainment and success. As demonstrated in Table 1, age and education levels appear similar with the only slight difference in education, both at the High School and Graduate levels. Additionally, the average time with the company was 6+ years for both men and women.

 

Women

N=795

Men

N=370

Age=39.1 (46-55)

25.1 (36-45)

20.7 (56-65)

Age=31.9 (46-55)

29.7 (36-45)

18.4 (56-65)

Education

HS=33.6

AD=17.8

College = 26.7

Graduate = 19.6

Education

HS 38.4

AD 19.1

College 25.1

Graduate 14.7

Time with company= 50% 6+ years

Time with company = 50% 6+ years

Race

Hispanic 6.3

White 77.3

Black 15.8

Race

Hispanic 10.6

White 77.8

Black 12.2

Table 1 - Demographics

 

Results

This paper seeks to explore if differences existed between men's and women's accommodation requests, decisions, costs, and satisfaction with JAN. The data were analyzed using Chi Square for nominal versus nominal or ordinal variables, and ANOVAs for continuous variables (i.e., costs) to compare against the nominal variable of gender.

Accommodation decisions. It was assumed that women would be less likely to have an accommodation granted than would men. For the purpose of this article, accommodation decisions refer to whether or not an accommodation was made, if the decision is pending, or if the implementation is pending. Accommodation solution refers to the type of accommodation an individual reported receiving. When asked if an accommodation had been made after the interaction with JAN, women reported "yes" (20.1%), "implementation pending" (4.4%), "decision pending" (14.2%) and "no" 33.3% of the time. Conversely, men reported "yes" (16.1%), "implementation pending" (5.4%), "decision pending" (17.7%) and "no" (31.5%). It appears that women are slightly more likely to be accommodated, although one must remember that the number of men who had not requested an accommodation was higher.

Cross-tabulations were run with a Chi Square. No significant differences were found between men and women.

Reasons for not requesting accommodations vary by group. In the open-ended "other" responses, men more commonly reported not requesting an accommodation, while women more commonly reported being fearful of retaliatory actions or not understanding the process. For instance, one male caller was recorded as stating, "I did not request the accommodation. I just wanted to see what the options were." One female caller was recorded as stating, "I did not follow-up on the request, it was too confusing."

Accommodation solutions. Were the accommodations requested by women and men significantly different? Chi Squares yielded no significant difference in accommodations requested by women and men: buying a product or piece of equipment; modifying a product or piece of equipment; modifying a worksite; changing the work schedule; moving the employee to another job; changing a workplace policy; and educating co-workers.

Types of accommodations granted were also considered to determine whether or not differences between men and women were present, but these turned out to be similar for both groups. Women reported buying a piece of equipment, modifying the worksite, and making changes to the work schedule as common accommodations. Men reported the same exact types of accommodations with the addition of moving the employee to another job.

Accommodation Effectiveness. Did women find the accommodations to be less effective than men? 26.9% (35) of women compared to 13.5% (7) of men reporting the granted accommodation to be ineffective compared to 73.1% (95) of women and 86.5% (45) of men reporting the accommodation to be effective (X2 = 3.792, df = 1, p = .036). Therefore, women were less satisfied with the accommodations than were men.

Accommodation Costs. It was assumed that the cost of accommodations would be less expensive for female compared to male employees. ANOVAs showed no significant differences of both one-time costs and annual costs spent on accommodations for men and women. Actual costs ranged from $0 (74.7%) to $5,200, with a mean of $222.24.

Accommodation Assistance. Are male employees more likely to have their accommodations paid for by the employer than female employees? Chi Square analysis revealed no significant difference on the gender of the employee and whether or not the employer paid for the accommodation. Women (87.9%, n=51) compared to men (84.0%, n=21) had their accommodations paid for by their employer.

Website: It was assumed that women would have visited the website in the past year significantly more times than did men. While 62.7% (485) of women, compared to 57.6% (208) visited the website in the past year, this did not reach significance (X2 = 2.719, df = 1, p = .057). Furthermore, no significant difference was found between men and women when using the website (e.g., navigation, ease of obtaining information, or finding what one needed).

Overall Satisfaction. It was assumed that women and men would perceive similar service satisfaction from JAN. Chi Square showed no significant difference between women and men when considering the ease of contacting JAN (99% found it easy), the courtesy shown by the receptionist and consultant (99% thought both were courteous), or whether the consultant understood her/his needs (96-98%).

Another indicator of satisfaction relates to whether participants plan to use the JAN service again. No significant difference could be found between women and men reporting that they planned to utilize this service in the future (96.4%, n = 762 of women; 97.8%, n = 345 of men). While there was no significant difference between women 36.5% (288) and men 31.5% (115) who had already referred someone else to JAN (X2 = 2.691, df = 1, p = .057), significantly more women reported being likely to refer individuals in the future (98.2%, n = 695 vs. 95.7%, n=312; X2 = 5.305, df = 1, p=.021).

Discussion

The results show few differences between men's and women's accommodation request types, whether or not accommodations were granted, the costs of requested accommodations, and satisfaction with JAN. It is important to understand that the data analyzed herein are the only systematic collection of individuals who chose to use JAN services and also chose to participate in this research project. It is possible that individuals who access JAN are different from others seeking workplace accommodations. The researchers were pleased to discover that women and men are treated similarly by JAN, as it demonstrates that equal opportunity is an important value of this service.

One important difference found, however, between women and men was that women were significantly less likely than men to find the accommodation that was granted to be effective. Both men and women provided similar responses as to why an accommodation was not granted. These included: employer did not believe they had to accommodate the employee, the employee was fired, or the employer did not think the condition was considered a disability. These similarities point to the need for continued training and education for both employees and employers on the ADA and the accommodation process.

Based on this information, it is difficult to understand why women's and men's accommodation outcomes vary. They have similar education levels and length of time on the job and request similar items with comparable costs. Consistent with previous research, the open-ended data reveals that a difference in the perception of disability may determine whether or not a request is made. For example, it may be that men are less likely than women to admit that they have a disability and consequently need accommodations.

Limitations

While this is the only systematically and nationally collected data across the United Stated regarding people with disabilities in the workplace, the individuals using JAN services may be different from workers who do not seek help from the federal government to manage their disabilities at work. Therefore, these findings may not be able to be generalized to the entire population of workers with disabilities but rather may be limited to those who have utilized JAN services.

Implications

The goal of this study was to determine whether or not gender is a factor when requesting reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities. With the work of JAN serving as a valuable resource, the study was able to aid in formulating better practices for those employees who develop work impairments during the course of their employment. The results and findings enable researchers, employers, employees, professionals, and policy makers to gain an understanding of the lack of literature available. Additionally, one can appreciate the need for more research in the future to not only to better protect disabled workers in the U.S., but also to assist in adherence to Title I of the American with Disabilities Act.

Thus far, the research has indicated JAN as an incredible resource that provides comprehensive information to workers with disabilities who require workplace accommodation assistance. The findings illustrate a lack of general understanding of workers' rights in the workplace; furthermore, the presence of JAN as an available resource was typically unknown to users prior to needing assistance. While employees may have been unaware of the services offered by JAN, employers were more likely to have used this service in the past, reporting satisfactory experiences. Employees typically had no prior knowledge of JAN as a resource and did not learn about JAN until actively conducting Internet searches, receiving doctor referrals, or seeking legal action after having contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

With the findings from this research, awareness is necessary to bring attention to all branches of the workforce on how to accommodate both male and female workers more effectively. As social workers, in an effort to promote social justice on behalf of those persons with disabilities, it is important to stay abreast of appropriate resources that may assist clients in the workforce. The Job Accommodation Network is one such resource. Education and awareness of its existence are critical for the continued success of JAN as a resource for both employers and employees.

JAN provides its customers with knowledgeable and qualified consultants who are trained to assist employers, employees, professionals, self-employed, and others as they navigate their way through an often confusing and stressful accommodation request process. JAN consultants are available by phone, email, or 24/7 online interactive chats. The website provides workplace anecdotes that have received positive feedback from users facing similar circumstances. JAN's website also provides a wealth of information, offering step-by-step instructions to assist clients who desire a better understanding of the accommodation request process, the types of accommodations available, and information on legal protections. Another positive practice employed by JAN is the simplification of the process by using layperson terms and avoiding legalese. As a result, users of this service are left with a clearer and more comprehensive understanding of the accommodation request process.

After speaking with the JAN consultant, callers are able to use this new knowledge to advocate more confidently for themselves in their places of employment. It is common for employer and employee alike to encounter obstacles due to either a lack of information or misinformation. JAN is a useful resource that not only provides answers but also increases employer's/employee's confidence to navigate the accommodation system more efficiently.

The research conducted provides a focus on how gender is perceived in accommodating workplace disabilities with the findings indicating that women found the accommodations to be less effective compared to the men. Utilizing the results of this study, it now becomes important to fill in the gaps in the literature regarding sex differences in workplace accommodations. Although the study explores whether or not gender factors into accommodation requests and outcomes, it is evident that extensive research needs to be done specifically on the types of disabilities that are readily accommodated compared to those that are not.

Turning to the issue of public policy changes, policy makers of workplace accommodations must understand that managing the health and productivity of all workers is a central business issue for all employers. Policy makers' advocacy efforts directed at hiring persons with disabilities should more realistically consider needs that may and often arise post hiring. Needs such as health care management, performance improvement, job modifications, and other accommodations that the workplace must provide in order to help people with work limitations sustain employment as employee's health needs and/or work demands gradually change.

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