How Americans with disabilities are underrepresented as managers and professionals, in


  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics released 2021 data about the employment situation of people with disabilities.
  • Of employed people with disabilities, 36.5% work in management, professional, and related occupations.
  • That is less than the share for employed people without disabilities working these jobs, at 42.7%.

People with disabilities can be great job candidates, but their labor force participation was still low in 2021 and unemployment remained high compared to those without disabilities.

The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics highlights the employment situation of people with and without disabilities in 2021. Only 21.3% of Americans age 16 and over with disabilities were working or actively looking for work, far below the 67.1% rate for Americans without disabilities.

The latest release also highlights the kinds of jobs people with disabilities are working in compared to those without disabilities:

“Persons with a disability were less likely to work in management, professional, and related occupations than those without a disability,” BLS wrote in the news release, where 36.5% of employed Americans with disabilities worked in those occupations, well below the 42.7% of employed Americans without disabilities.

People with disabilities may face discrimination that can make it difficult to land a job — or even get through the application process if applications aren’t accessible.

Workers with disabilities face barriers reaching management positions

Charles Catherine, director of corporate and government relations at the National Organization on Disability (NOD), told Insider that the gap in management and related roles could be due to a few reasons. 

“One is people with disabilities are on average less educated than the average population,” Catherine said. “And that’s because of a lot of reasons — discrimination, difficulty to access education, low expectations.” 

“So when you’re looking to hire people at the managerial level for companies,” he added, “it is objectively difficult to find qualified candidates with disabilities.”

Another problem is companies may have a hard time finding people who self-identify as having disabilities because of discrimination. Catherine said there could be more managers out there with disabilities but they might not feel comfortable disclosing this. 

“On the employer side, some of them are forward-thinking and know that there is an untapped talent pool there and they want to hire people with disabilities,” Catherine said. “And we at NOD work with many of them. But, they don’t necessarily find that talent of people who self-identify because we know that there is discrimination against people with disabilities.”

He cited a study that highlights this problem. The study looked at made-up applications written by the researchers to over 6,000 accounting positions where a third of cover letters didn’t mention a disability, a third noted a spinal cord injury, and a third mentioned Asperger’s Syndrome. The authors found that the “fictional applicants with disabilities received 26% fewer expressions of employer interest than those without disabilities, with little difference between the two types of disability.”

One of the main results the authors found was the “disability gap in employer interest is concentrated among experienced applicants, indicating that higher qualifications do not erase the labor market disadvantages associated with disability.”

Employers can improve their practices and be more accommodating for workers with disabilities during the interview stages, in addition to once workers land the job. Employers can also make more of an effort to recruit this talent pool.

“When it comes to getting employed, there are barriers in the recruitment, hiring, and retention phase of employment,” Josh Basile, community-relations manager at accessiBe, previously told Insider.

Catherine said it’s on the employers to reach out and better recruit and promote this talent pool of workers. 

“Building accessibility and improving the inclusive hiring process is not only a compliance issue,” Basile said. “It’s smart business, and it’s the right thing to do.”



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