Five years after starting to keep track of whether people with disabilities are working, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has found fewer people with disabilities in the labor force even as the population has grown.
In June 2008 when the bureau started to keep track of the disabled population's relationship to the labor force, there were 27.3 million people who were disabled and 21.7 percent of them were either working or looking for a job.
As of March, that number had grown to 28.9 million, but their participation rate in the labor force had fallen to 18 percent.
During the same time period, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in the labor force has risen from 9.3 percent to 13 percent.
The trends for people with disabilities mirrors the larger population, in which the unemployment rate rose from 5.6 percent in June 2008 to 7.4 percent in March (without seasonal adjustment) while the labor force participation rate has fallen from 72.6 percent to 68.7 percent.
"In this market when there are so many people looking for work, people with disabilities have to outshine everybody else," said Eric Smith, associate director of the Center for Accessible Technologies in Berkeley, Calif.
In a survey last year of people with disabilities, the results of which were released this week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 80.5 percent of the people without jobs cited their disability as a barrier to employment.
Other barriers, according to the survey, included a lack of education and training (14.1 percent), a lack of transportation (11.7 percent) and the need for special accommodations at the job (10.3 percent).
Stanley Holbrook, CEO of Three Rivers Center for Independent Living in Wilkinsburg, said the biggest barriers to employment were attitudes -- particularly those of employers.
"They don't have the knowledge of reasonable accommodations that are very inexpensive that would allow people with disabilities to work at a very high level," he said.
Computers and workstations are already fairly accessible with keyboards that can be adjusted so people in wheelchairs can reach them and magnifying software for workers who are partially-sighted. Mr. Smith said there also are many free, open source programs for people who need special computer adjustments.
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics said 92.5 percent of the people asked said their current government disability benefits did not discourage them from seeking employment, both Mr. Holbrook and Mr. Smith said the earning limits for Social Security caused a very real barrier to work, not just because of losing the money, but even more because of the risk of losing health insurance.
Mr. Holbrook said the Social Security Administration allows people receiving benefits to earn $9,000 a year before losing their benefits.
Ann Belser: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1699.