Perceptions and Bias of Small Business Leaders in Employing People with Different Types of Disabilities

Nanette Goodman, Samantha Deane, Fitore Hyseni, Michal Soffer, Gary Shaheen, Peter Blanck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Despite existing employment-related legislation and governmental programs, people with disabilities continue to face significant barriers to competitive employment. These obstacles are partially due to biases among employers regarding the contributions of people with disabilities and perceptions about accommodation costs, which can affect their hiring decisions. Existing research on employment barriers and facilitators often treats people with disabilities homogenously and focuses mainly on large companies. This study helps to fill these gaps by exploring the motivations and challenges small employers face when hiring people with disabilities and how their attitudes and willingness to hire vary based on disability type. Methods: We surveyed business owners and decision-makers at companies with fewer than 100 employees resulting in a sample of 393 company respondents. Through descriptive analyses, we examined variations in respondents’ willingness to hire and the prevailing attitudes among the company leaders sampled. We explored how employer attitudes can either hinder or support the hiring of people with disabilities. We conducted multivariate analysis to explore the connections among attitudinal barriers, facilitators, and willingness to hire individuals with various disabilities, reflecting disability’s heterogeneous nature. Results: Our findings reveal that, in terms of hiring people with disabilities, the most important concerns among employers are: inability to discipline, being unfamiliar with how to hire and accommodate, and uncertainty over accommodation costs. These concerns do not differ between employers covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and non-covered employers. However, ADA-coverage may make a difference as ADA-covered employers are more likely to say they would hire an applicant with a disability. We find that for small companies (less than 15 employees), the positive effect of the facilitators (positive perceptions about workers with disabilities) almost completely offsets the negative effect of the barriers. However, for the larger companies, the marginal effect for an additional barrier is significantly more predictive than for an additional facilitator. Among the disabilities we examined, employers are least likely to hire someone with blindness, followed by mental health disabilities, intellectual disabilities, deafness, and physical disabilities, underscoring that employers do not view all types of disabilities as equally desirable at work. Conclusions: Understanding small employers’ underlying concerns and effectively addressing those factors is crucial for developing effective intervention strategies to encourage small employers to hire and retain people with different disabilities. Our results suggest greater openness among ADA-covered employers to hiring people with disabilities, but the perceived barriers indicate a need for ongoing information on effective intervention strategies to increase disability hiring among all small employers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-372
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Occupational Rehabilitation
Issue number2
Early online date13 May 2024
StatePublished - Jun 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2024.


  • Disability discrimination
  • Disability employment
  • Employer attitutudes
  • Small business

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation
  • Occupational Therapy


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