Eric Damecour, MSc, Saint Mary’s University; Arla Day, PhD, Saint Mary’s University

The overall goal of the study is to better understand how workplace accommodations and supports impact the health and wellbeing of workers with disabilities. More specifically, we wanted to: (1) better understand the health and work outcomes of this vulnerable group of workers, (2) compare the workplace experiences of workers with disabilities across countries (Canada, US, Scandinavian countries); and (3) examine how COVID-19 pandemic affected workers with disabilities.

At one point or another throughout a person’s life, practically everyone will experience living with some form of disability (United Nations, 2006) be it physical, psychological, or both. Even though these individuals are protected under the Canadian Charter of Human Rights Act, people living with disabilities have historically been the target of stigma and discrimination (Catano et al., 2016). The UN (2014) reported that 50-70 percent of persons with disabilities are unemployed and that those who are employed tend to be placed/required to work in occupations/positions beneath their qualifications (Hogan et al.,2012; Schur et al., 2005; UN, 2006; WHO, 2011). Therefore, we examined the perceptions of workers with disabilities in terms of how organizational disability management affects their attitudes towards work and well-being, and whether there are differences in these perceptions and outcomes based on the country in which they reside.

We examined worker perceptions of organizational treatment and accommodations and their association with worker well-being and individual outcomes across the United States, Canada, and three Scandinavian countries. Using a crowd sourcing website (Prolific), invitation links to our Qualtrics survey were sent to working participants 18 years of age or older that identify as living with a disability. I recruited participants from North America (Canada; N=69; and the US; N=71), and Scandinavia (N=65). They completed a survey assessing cultural influences, organizational support, and disability accommodation, in terms of dignity, discrimination, accessibility, and control. They also reported on their wellbeing outcomes (e.g., burnout, stress).

Workplace Accommodation: As expected, workers who rated their organization as being more accommodating and supportive, experienced better individual outcomes. Moreover, workplace disability acceptance, social rejection, visibility, and impairment, and social rejection accounted for a significant amount of variance in support, dignity, discrimination, accessibility, and accommodation control. There was no multivariate statistically significant difference in organizational treatment/accommodations based on disability type.

Covid: Workers with disabilities who reported being more negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic also reported having higher stress and exhaustion. Interestingly, changes to one’s work was associated with increased job satisfaction, which is likely due to more people working from home, which may be a preferred place to work.

Country Differences: Finally, planned contrasts demonstrated that North American workers with disabilities reported better working conditions than their Scandinavian counterparts in terms of coworker social support, organizational social support, accessibility, and accommodation control. However, Scandinavian workers reported that their workplaces were more accepting and less ostracizing of their workers with disabilities.

Perceptions of disability acceptance and rejection were shown to be closely linked to reported worker experiences of disability management. As such, different types of disabilities may need different kinds of supports and accommodations. Furthermore, stigma still appears to play a role in the way that we treat persons with disabilities. The consequences of COVID-19 tend to be associated with burnout, job dissatisfaction, and stress, and may have been exacerbated by negative organizational experiences related to disability treatment and accommodations.

Limitations & Future Research: Because of small sample sizes within each country, our ability to detect significance may have been limited. The cross-sectional design limits the conclusions about causation. Future research should incorporate longitudinal designs to assess accommodation practices over time, and examine multilevel designs with multiple organizations and or countries to more adequately assess and compare organizational approaches to accommodation and treatment of workers with disabilities.

Implications: Because of the differences in acceptance of varying disabilities, organizations should take care to consider the kinds of disabilities that exist in their workplaces. The role of informal accommodations and attitudes towards workers with disabilities appears to potentially play a unique role in disability management. Therefore, employers may want to use greater care to create work environments and cultures that are supportive and anti-discriminatory.

Perceptions of disability acceptance and rejection were closely linked to reported worker experiences of disability management. As such, different types of disabilities may need different kinds of supports and accommodations. The consequences of COVID-19 tend to be associated with burnout, job dissatisfaction, and stress. The country treatment of persons with disabilities may be the result of differing cultural values, assumptions, and expectations about disability management.

Tags: Applicable to all occupations/industries, Applied research, COVID-19, Diversity and Inclusion in a Changing Workforce, Emerging Issues, Empirical study, Individual Factors / Differences, National and International Initiatives; Laws; Regulations; Policies; and Collaborations; Global Standards, Sustainable Work; Health; and Organizations, Workplace Diversity and Health Disparities