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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Woodward

Implicit Bias: How it Impacts Disabled People & Businesses

Updated: Jan 2, 2020

The American Bar Association’s Commission on Disability Rights published a guide on implicit bias against disabled people which revealed that implicit biases against people with disabilities are so strong that one study found that “76 percent of respondents showed an implicit preference for people without disabilities.” Though the bias may not be intentional, it is harmful. In attempt to mitigate the harm, the ABA created a resource to help individuals recognize their biases and take steps to minimize them. This resource is available at

Implicit Bias: Impact on Employment for Disabled People

Employment Disparities:

National Unemployment rate: 6.8%

National Unemployment rate of disabled people: 15.5%

Wage Disparities:

National Median Individual Earning without a disability: $31,865

National Median Individual Earning with a disability: $21,509

Recognizing Implicit Bias in Job Descriptions & Hiring Processes

Many employers reveal their implicit biases against disabled people through their job descriptions. Though job descriptions should include the essential functions of the job, many employers include extraneous requirements that are not necessary, but have the effect of excluding candidates with disabilities. These can include requirements for lifting, bending, kneeling, seeing, driving, speaking, etc.

Current job description for an associate attorney position in Rochester:

Physical Qualifications: • Be able to lift 5 lbs. or greater • Be able to sit 90% of the work day at times • Be able to bend at the waist and be mobile when needed • Be able to read and comprehend position-specific documents and correspondence • Be able to communicate in a common language with (or to) individuals or groups verbally and/ or in writing • Be able to travel occasionally when needed by the most efficient means of transportation • Be able to operate a computer, phone and/or equivalent devices • Be able to complete a minimum of a 40 hour flexible workweek schedule

Do any of these “qualifications” exclude candidates with disabilities? Are these qualifications necessary in order to an attorney to be qualified to do the job?

How Implicit Biases Present in the Work Environment & Professional World

The things we say:

- Viewing disabled people as pitiful or inspirational.

- Asking people with disabilities inappropriate questions.

- Making comments about disability based on stereotypes

The things we do:

- Giving disabled people different assignments based on what we believe they can/cannot do

- Making office spaces or policies and procedures inaccessible

- Paying disabled employees less than nondisabled employees

- Failing to provide reasonable accommodations/assuming accommodations are costly

- Hosting events that are inaccessible

Reality of Having People with Disabilities in the Workplace

- On average, disabled employees have longer tenure in their positions & less scheduled absences

- Over 50% of reasonable accommodations cost nothing for companies to implement

- Benefits of hiring people with disabilities included improvements in profitability (e.g., profits and cost-effectiveness, turnover and retention, reliability and punctuality, employee loyalty, company image), competitive advantage (e.g., diverse customers, customer loyalty and satisfaction, innovation, productivity, work ethic, safety), inclusive work culture, and ability awareness.


Want to learn more about your own implicit bias for or against disabled people or other groups?

Take an Implicit Association Test:

Learn more about how job descriptions and hiring processes may include implicit biases against people with disabilities:

Laura Sherbin and Julia Taylor Kennedy, The Case for Improving Work for People with Disabilities Goes Way Beyond Compliance, Harvard Business Review (2017) available at

Wendy Lu, This Is How Employers Weed Out Disabled People From Their Hiring Pools, HuffPost (2019) available at

Learn more about the realities and benefits of having people with disabilities in the workplace:

Job Accommodation Network, Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact, U.S. Dep’t of Labor, available at

Brigida Hernandez and Katherine McDonald, Exploring the Bottom Line: A Study of the Costs and Benefits of Workers with Disabilities, DePaul University (2007) available at

Lindsay, S., Cagliostro, E., Albarico, M., Mortaji, N., & Karon, L, A systematic review of the benefits of hiring people with disabilities, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation (2018) available at

Learn more about employment and wage disparities for disabled people, especially in Rochester, New York:

Luticha Andre Doucette, Employment of People with Disabilities: Identifying Barriers and Creating Opportunities, City of Rochester (2018) available at

© Stephanie Woodward, 2020. All rights reserved.

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