Debunking Myths about People living with Disabilities in the Workplace

Posted on Thursday, May 16, 2019

Colleagues from different origins working as a team.

People living with disabilities not only face barriers in daily life, they also face adversity on the labour market. They do not experience the same access to work opportunities as their counterparts without disabilities do. Why? The most likely culprit is misinformation: employers still believe in unfounded myths about how people living with disabilities are likely to perform in the workplace.

A new article, led by uOttawa Professor Silvia Bonaccio, looked at the empirical evidence speaking to the employment of people living with disabilities and identified common concerns shared by employers. When they examined the validity of those concerns, they found out they were either unfounded or blown out of proportions.

“Our research suggests that these barriers are often the result of lack of information by managers,” explains Professor Bonaccio. “Many employers harbour ill-founded views about the work-related abilities of people living with disabilities. Managers consistently report that they find it difficult to attract and hire qualified employees living with disabilities, but data shows the considerable potential of this segment of the workforce is underused.”

Throughout their research, Professor Bonaccio and her colleagues challenged numerous myths and stereotypes about employees living with disabilities

Here are four of them:

Myth # 1: Accommodating employees with disabilities is costly.

The cost of accommodation is perhaps the most common concern expressed by managers. However, data shows that they worry too much: accommodations are actually inexpensive, and often cost nothing, or sometimes a one-time cost of less than $500.

According to an ongoing survey involving close to 2,500 employers, accommodations are also cost-effective. They help retain talented employees, they eliminate the cost related with training new employees, they improve productivity and they increase organizational morale.

Myth # 2: People who live with a disability have lower job performance.

One very entrenched idea is that people living with disabilities have lower job performance and greater incidence of absenteeism, lateness, or turnover than those without disabilities.

According to Professor Bonaccio and her colleagues, it is very important to challenge this stereotype: one study shows insignificant differences in productivity between workers with and without disabilities, and in some cases, higher productivity for workers living with disabilities.

Myth # 3: There are few working-age people with disabilities.

Employers underestimate, or are not aware of, how many job applicants or current employees may live with disabilities. The most recent Canadian Survey on Disability shows that about 20% of working-age Canadians reported living with disabilities.

According to the research team, managers may underestimate the prevalence of disabilities because many of these conditions are not always visible. In some cases, employees simply choose not to disclose them.

Myth # 4: It’s difficult to attract qualified applicants living with disabilities.

One of the other prominent concerns among employers is that they are not able to attract qualified applicants, but this negative perception is inconsistent with the fact that the pool of candidates is largely underutilized.

“People with disabilities are one of the largest overlooked labour pools,” says Professor Bonaccio. “The data we reviewed in our article suggests that organizations are missing out on talented and productive employees.”

To learn more about the myths continuing to slow the participation of people living with disabilities in the workplace, you can read the full article.

Research from the Canadian Disability Participation Project was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


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