Rate of Workplace Accommodations Higher Than Previously Thought

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One in four Americans will experience a disability of some kind before age 67. While some leave the workforce and enter programs such as Social Security Disability Insurance, many depend on employer accommodations guaranteed to them under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to stay in their job.

In the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management associate professor of health care policy Nicole Maestas, PhD, senior economist at the RAND Corporation Kathleen J. Mullen, and associate economist at the RAND Corporation Stephanie Rennane reveal that the rate at which workers with disabilities receive employer accommodations is two to three times higher than previously thought.

Prior research using the Health and Retirement Study estimated that 20-30% of individuals with work-limiting disabilities received accommodations, however this new study suggests that the rate of workplace accommodation among those who would benefit is closer to 56-65%.

Current estimates of accommodation rates based on major nationally surveys have missed a large group of accommodated individuals. Because these people are accommodated, they do not consider themselves “work-limited.” Disability surveys typically do not ask about employer accommodations unless people self-identify as “work-limited.” Furthermore, the authors identified a group of individuals with health problems who say they need workplace accommodations even though their health did not yet limit their ability to work.

The authors recommend that the effectiveness of workplace accommodation be reevaluated. Previous studies have concluded that accommodation prolongs employment for at most two to three years. But this does not account for people whose disabilities are fully accommodated, who no longer experience work limitations and are therefore able to stay in the workforce longer. This suggests that what was previously believed about accommodation and its association with labor force outcomes should be revisited, especially in light of interest in policies meant to penalize employers for not providing accommodations to workers with disabilities.