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Running head: Disability Discrimination Resolving the Disability Discrimination Issues at the Workplace: the Road still Lies Ahead Completed by: YOUR NAME University of Outline 1. Abstract 2. Defining the Disability Discrimination 3. Background of the Disability Discrimination 4. Alternative aspects of Disability Discrimination 5. Evaluation of the proposed solutions 6. Conclusions 7. References Abstract The issue of workplace discrimination resulting from disability has not received nearly as much attention in the modern literature as other forms of discrimination. There are many reasons for this lack of attention ranging from the fact that the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) is fairly recent compared to other civil rights legislation, to problems with defining what actually constitutes a disability in both the legal and behavioral sense. However, it is particularly imperative that we work to better understand disability discrimination in the workplace given what little change there has been in the employment status of persons with disabilities since the advent of the ADA. Defining the Disability Discrimination In this paper we examine what work has been done and what major issues still remain to be addressed in future research. Extensive research on disability discrimination has grown since the passage of the ADA, has become more systematic, and is more relevant to employment issues. Yet, our review underscores the point that there is still a long way to go until we can gain a workable understanding of the psychological aspects of disability discrimination in the workplace. To begin with, the ADA (1990) defines an individual with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. Major life activities are activities that an average person can perform with little or no difficulty such as walking, breathing, seeing, hearing, speaking, learning, and working. This is a very broad and general definition. Data from labor economists clearly indicate that discrimination against people with disabilities in the workplace still exists and has not been greatly ameliorated since the ADA (1990).

 

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Yet we know relatively little about how this discrimination manifests itself, what causes it, and consequently, how we can reduce it. Psychological literature aimed at understanding these issues is still in its infancy. Background of the Disability Discrimination It has to be indicated that available research is inconclusive and somewhat scattered, focuses mainly on selection decisions, relies heavily on laboratory studies with student respondents, and focuses primarily on cognitive explanations for disability discrimination, which may not be the most useful paradigm to follow. Recently, research has begun to go beyond these limitations (Colella and Varma, 2001). However, there is still quite a way to go. Examining disability discrimination poses some unique challenges in comparison to other types of discrimination. As discussed earlier, one such issue focuses on defining disability from both the observers' and actors' perspective. Different disabilities may result in differential level of discrimination, different responses (e.g., empathy versus anxiety), and have effects that vary by context and culture. Second, we believe that additional research is needed to examine disability issues from a multiple stakeholder point of view including the perspectives of (a) individuals with disabilities, (b) coworkers and supervisors, (c) organizations, and (d) the larger society or community. Most research in this area has focused on how coworkers and supervisors react to people with disabilities, ignoring the role of people with disabilities in their own interactions and organizational and cultural norms. Research is sorely needed to understand the self-identities of employees with disabilities. In comparison to work on ethnic and gender identities, there is relatively little research on “disability” identity. One notable exception is some recent research on the coping styles and personalities of polio survivors (Maynard & Roller, cited in Post Polio News, 2000). Results of this research suggested that individuals who have had polio use one of three strategies for coping with chronic illness including passing, minimizing, and identifying (Maynard & Roller, cited in Post Polio News, 2000). Passers often have minimal or hidden disabilities and typically do not view themselves as disabled.

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Minimizers are moderately disabled and are typically high achievers who pursue intellectual vocations, push themselves to the limit, and develop good interpersonal skills to ensure that others focus on their abilities not disabilities. Identifiers have obvious disabilities and usually use assistive devices to facilitate mobility and other life functions (e.g., wheelchairs). In addition, identifiers more fully integrate disability in their self-images and often take an active role in the disability rights movement or promoting environmental change. Although the categories just noted may be a gross simplification, the research does suggest that a chronic illness or disability may influence an individual's coping strategies and personality. Furthermore, the person's personality and survival strategy may affect the extent to which he or she experiences unfair discrimination in the workplace. For example, if an individual who is obviously disabled attempts to use a “passing” strategy, then an employer may question the person's maturity and suitability for jobs. Alternatively, if the person minimizes the disability by emphasizing good interpersonal skills and high levels of achievement, employers may be more motivated to focus on the individual's abilities rather than the disability. Alternative aspects of Disability Discrimination Thus, the coping strategies used by persons with disabilities may influence the degree to which employers look for individuating information or focus on the individual's disability. Thus, research is needed to understand the influence that disabilities may have on self-identity, coping strategies, and the degree to which these factors affect discrimination against persons with disabilities. Apart from the research just noted, in the past several years, there has been a rise in the political coalescence of persons with disabilities (Hahn, 1996), and perhaps this development has changed the self-identity of many persons with disabilities. Thus, the use of inter-group and identity theories to explore disability discrimination may be more useful in the future. In terms of understanding coworker and supervisor reactions, we suggested earlier that emotions and paternalism need to be better understood as concepts underlying disability discrimination. Furthermore, additional research is needed to examine interpersonal interactions in organizations and to develop strategies for increasing the effectiveness of these interactions.

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At the organization and societal levels, research is needed to examine the effectiveness of changes in organizational culture and policies and the practices on the inclusion of persons with disabilities. Evaluation of the proposed solutions Previous research has shown that competitive or interdependent reward systems (Colella, DeNisi, and Varma, 1998) has a negative impact on the acceptance of people with disabilities. Also, some research has shown that community-based awards for employing people with disabilities can alter employers' beliefs about hiring people with disabilities (Stone, Williams, Lukaszewski, & Feigelson, 1998). More - of this type is warranted, because it directly addresses the issue of how to eliminate disability discrimination. For example, researchers might examine the business case for hiring employees with disabilities including the extent to which employing people with disabilities has a positive effect on organizational image or customer satisfaction levels. Interestingly, some European countries (e.g., Germany) are quite willing to make continued employment of persons with disabilities a major employment policy, and in those countries men with disabilities receive 93% of the wage rates for those who are not disabled (Burkhauser & Daly, 1994). As a result, although the United States has developed some key disability policies, research is needed to compare the effectiveness of U. S. employment policies with those of other nations. A third issue that makes disability discrimination unique is that people with disabilities have impairments, which is not true about other discrimination characteristics. This makes studying disability discrimination difficult because it is not easy to determine if unequal treatment or benefits are due to discriminatory behavior or actually result from decreased functioning due to the impairment. Critiques of the legal system and rehabilitation fields (Hahn, 1988, 1996, 2000) argue that too much attention is placed on the impact of impairments, so that it disguises discrimination resulting from attitudes and stigmatization. For example, one can argue that someone is denied a promotion because her depression makes her “unstable” and that this is due to the impairment rather than erroneous beliefs or stereotypes.

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Conclusions One implication of this is that disability discrimination research needs to carefully control for impairment effects to get a better understanding of what dynamics underlie discrimination. It also may mean that it is easier to conceal disability discrimination behind the appearance of blaming unfavorable evaluations or decisions on one's impairment. We are optimistic about the future progression of research on disability discrimination. In the past eight years, there has been a steady stream of research that has taken off in new directions including fieldwork, understanding interaction dynamics, examining the accommodation scenario, and examining ways in which disability discrimination may be eliminated. We expect this research to continue and hope that the earlier suggestions and observations of the scholars serve to fuel that research.

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