Last year, only 17.1% of the disabled population in the US was employed, in stark contrast to the 64.6% for the non-disabled, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A new study out of Rutgers and Syracuse University may point to the hidden bias that explains this. Researchers sent thousands of cover letters and résumés for made-up candidates in response to ads for accounting jobs and discovered that potential employers had interest in disabled contenders about 26% less than the non-disabled ones, the New York Times reports—even though the disability mentioned in some of the fake cover letters was the only difference among candidates. "I don't think we were astounded by the fact that there were fewer expressions of interest [for disabled applicants]," a Rutgers scientist tells the Times. "But I don't think we were expecting it to be as large."
The researchers created two résumés: one of a seasoned candidate, the other for a candidate not long out of school. Three cover letters were then created for each résumé: one that said the candidate had a spinal cord injury, one where the candidate had Asperger's, and one that mentioned no disability; those disabilities were selected "because they would not be expected to limit productivity in accounting," the study notes. While the gap between novice candidates wasn't statistically significant, employers showed interest in the experienced disabled candidates about 34% less than in non-disabled ones. "We created people who were truly experts in that profession," another scientist tells the Times. "We thought the employer would want to at least speak to this person, shoot an email." The researchers also think the results point to bias against disabled applicants overall, since spine-injury and Asperger's candidates experienced about the same decline in employer interest, the paper notes. (In Europe, being obese offers workers certain legal protections.)