People with disabilities face disproportionate economic hardship from Covid-19

Douglas Kruse and Lisa Schur - Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations Distinguished and Program for Disability Research Co-Directors discuss the imbalance on the labor front during the pandemic for people with disabilities.

Video Transcript

ADAM SHAPIRO: Welcome back to Yahoo Finance "On The Move." Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act being signed into law. The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in education, employment, transportation, basically in all walks of life. But the COVID-19 pandemic is drawing into focus some real problems for our fellow citizens who live with disabilities.

To help us understand this, we invite into the program Professors Douglas Kruse and Lisa Schur, who are the-- they direct the Program for Disability Research at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. We welcome both of you to the program.

And I heard a report just yesterday on NPR about this, which told the story of a woman who-- when she would apply for a job, she would tell some employers that she used crutches to be mobile, and she would not get a callback. When she didn't mention that she used crutches, she would get the callback. What's happening to people like that woman in the NPR story, especially now with COVID-19 and a lot of us working from home? Douglas, you first.

DOUGLAS KRUSE: Well, her experience actually reflects very much a field experiment we did sending out 6,000 job applications to job openings where we had resumes identical, but some of the cover letters mentioned a disability, and some of them did not. And it turns out employers were much less likely to--

[QUACKING]

--were much less likely to--

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--give responses to the--

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Sorry for my phone here.

--to give responses to the applicants with disabilities, even though the qualifications were identical and the disabilities were irrelevant to the job in question.

JULIE HYMAN: So Julie here. I'm going to chime in on this, hopefully once the duck stops his quacking.

[LAUGHTER]

So I'll then turn this over to you instead for just a moment, Lisa. So now that we have coronavirus, on the one hand, if people are being interviewed remotely, for example, does that change the dynamic? At the same time, though, I know that we are seeing a bigger drop in employment for those with disabilities versus the broader population. So to what do you attribute that?

LISA SCHUR: Well, obviously, the COVID pandemic has been devastating for citizens across the board. It's been especially devastating for people with disabilities. They've lost their jobs-- significantly more of them have lost their jobs than people without disabilities.

If there is a potential upside, it is that working from home, working remotely, has become the kind of new normal for a lot of people, and for a lot of people with disabilities who need that as an accommodation, that enables them to work more easily. So if employers are more willing to do that, then that's a potential silver lining in the middle of this catastrophe that we're seeing.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Professor Schur, I'm curious. A very good friend of mine in Cleveland, Ohio, works for Progressive Insurance, and this individual started to lose their sight. Progressive actually created a computer that has things much larger and allows this person to work from home, because this individual was also a top salesperson. How often do you see a company go to that kind of length to retain somebody when a disability may become a part of their life?

LISA SCHUR: Many companies do that. And it's actually in their business interest to do that as well, if you have a valued employee. Often, the accommodation is a one-time expense. I think a lot of employers fear the cost of accommodations, but we've done studies that have found that cost of accommodations are-- most of them are not very expensive. So that is a fairly common-- that's fairly common practice. But, unfortunately, some employers don't see value in doing that. So, hopefully, that will change.

DOUGLAS KRUSE: I might add that many large companies-- there's a--

LISA SCHUR: Yes.

DOUGLAS KRUSE: --consortium of large companies called Disability:IN, Disability:I-N--

LISA SCHUR: Yep.

DOUGLAS KRUSE: --that includes many Fortune 500 companies that are very committed to--

LISA SCHUR: Yes.

DOUGLAS KRUSE: --employing people with disabilities and have a whole set of best practices for employing them, going back to that-- very much like the example of your friend in Cleveland.

LISA SCHUR: And just one more thing. There's a group called the Job Accommodations Network, and employers can contact them if they have questions about accommodations.

DOUGLAS KRUSE: For free.

LISA SCHUR: For free. And JAN-- and we don't work for JAN or anything like that, but they are happy to work with employers to find reasonable accommodations that work for both the employer and the employee.

JULIA LA ROCHE: Hi, Douglas. It's Julia here. We were talking at the-- at the top of the conversation, you were sharing a study. I was hoping we could revisit that and dig a bit more into it. What were you all finding specifically? And what do you think will change?

DOUGLAS KRUSE: Well, what we found very specifically, we sent out 6,000 applications, as I say. 2,000 of those did not mention disability. 2,000 of them mentioned a spinal cord injury in the cover letter. And 2,000 of them mentioned Asperger's. And we found that the employer response to the applications from people with disabilities-- both Asperger's and spinal cord injury-- were 26% lower, 26% fewer responses. And this was for accounting-- excuse me-- accounting positions, where the disability would have no relevance to the productivity there.

And there have been several other studies as well, several other field experiments finding similar results that employers are just-- I don't know if it's explicit bias or prejudice as much as it is uncertainty. There's a lot of reluctance, a lot of questions employers have in their minds when they see an application from someone with a disability.

ADAM SHAPIRO: And you mentioned the Job-- what was it again? JAN? Because you go to askjan.com. It's the Job--

LISA SCHUR: Job Accommodations Network.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Job Accommodations Network. I actually Googled them while we were talking. It's very easy for people who might be watching this, if you need assistance and help in getting your workplace ready to employ people with a disability.

We have to say thank you right now to Professors Douglas Kruse and Lisa Schur from the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. They are the directors of the Disability Research Program.