Classification of disability

The definition and classification of disability is a controversial area as many scholars have giving different connotations to the term. It is however an umbrella term, covering different sorts of impairments, activity limitation and participatory restriction. Impairments sre usually problems of bodily functions and a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task and hence problems in involvement in life situations.

According to the Americans with disability act (1990), a person is considered to have a disability if he has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial long term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day to day activities (Mansour, 2006). It is therefore a complex phenomenon that reflects a situation through the interaction between the problems of an individuals body and the society where he or she lives, which also includes the working environment. The data gotten on disabled peoples participation in the labour market, varies according to the definition of the disability adopted. Employment definitions on disability however moved away from a preoccupation with the cause of disability as the medical model does and concentrates on the loss of ability and function of an individual in the workplace as a result of impairment. Some studies have however adopted a broader definition to the term, such as any health problem either gotten from accidents or long term illness that limits personal functioning. However, employability depends largely on the severity of the impairment, as those with significantly low limiting health problems are more likely to be In employment than people that are severely disabled (Smith and Twomey, 2002) however, irrespective of the definition used, it is generally noted that disabled people are disadvantaged in the labour market and the attitude organizations have in the recruitment process of disabled people, can be seen as largely responsible for this disadvantage.

In the cause of this essay, we will be looking at the different models of disability, the situations face by disabled workers in an industrialized setting, and finally, the factors that influence the employment outcomes and prospects of diabled people.

Very few organizations encourage job applications from disabled people, while some have no general policy against employing disabled people, and some organizations view particular jobs as jobs that are suitable for disabled people and some actively do not have room for disabled people and have justified their reasons with the claims that disabled people are not suitable for some jobs, such a shift jobs and those requiring the carrying of heavy loads, and most times the premises of the work environment are not suitable for them. However, another reason for the absence of disabled people in work environments are that, most times, they are reluctant to apply for jobs due to the degree of discrimination they may face within their work environment (Kirton,2005).

Models of disability

Individuals with impairments are often looked at as people with a personal tragedy, who mostly rely on others like family and friends for assistance, they are regarded as helpless victims. In similar manner, the disabled have been stereotypically defined with reference to different models of description and properties, example, the biological and social model.

The biological model describes disability as a phenomenon caused by the loss of body parts and where congenital inherited diseases play a role in the cause of disability. It conceives disability as being a negative experience. There is also the medical model of disability which presents disability as a problem caused by a disease, trauma or other health condition, which requires sustained medical care. Another perspective to disability is the social model, here, they see disability as a socially created problem and a matter of the full integration of individuals into the society. Here, they attribute disability to the handicapping effects of the environment. They essentially see disability as a social construct and can only exist with a social environment which neglects differences (Woodhams and danieli, 2000). Here, disability is not an attribute of an individual but rather a complex collection of conditions, many of which are created by the social environment, thus it is the responsibility of the society to make necessary changes and adjustment for people with disability to fully participate in all areas of their social life especially in their work environment.

Impairment/ disability, however vary in terms of severity, stability and type and an individual who might be severely impaired in one society may not be so in another. In any case, disabled people could be seen to be made up of a set of unique individuals whose characteristics of group membership are largely unlike any other and are seen to face common barriers to full participation in society, especially in terms of structural and perceptual discrimination (Ibid)

Perceptual discrimination connotes that when disabled people are giving opportunities or equal rights, they are viewed as people empowered and made independent. Empowerment means choice and control, it connotes that an individual has the power to exert choice and therefore maximize control in their lives, while care in contrast depicts vulnerable individuals who responsibilities should be taking for and who have the inability to exact control or choice over their lives. The idea of caring therefore has led to the perception that disabled people are powerless.

Again, disabled people are viewed as citizens of the second order, who are not able to fully participate in reproductive social activities. Here, disabled peoples citizenship is not seen as a matter of social resources to which they can or cannot claim as members of a giving society in order to meet their needs, but as a matter of whether or not they can carry out their reproductive employment, living independent of external care and promoting the welfare of the community (Rummery, 2006). Therefore disabled people may not be seen as full citizens because citizens are defined as fully competent members of the society. They are also the most socially excluded of all disadvantaged group in the society. However, other commentators perceive disabled people on the other hand to be competent members of society who are entitled to expect and receive rights and carry out the duties associated with full citizenship, but are considered vulnerable as a result of discrimination and social, cultural and environmental barriers to inclusion created by a non- disabled society (Ibid)

In resent times, a number of disabled people have come up with the establishment of their own organizations (disabled peoples international organizations) and have also engaged in protest campaigns to fight and challenge the refusal of their rights and the forms of attitudes and barriers that span their education and employment, housing and transport, leisure, social relationships and sexuality (Barnes and Mercer, 2005). The disabled people activist argue that all humans have the right to participate in all areas of mainstream community life and that individuals should be empowered to make choices and exact control over thire lives, irrespective of the severity of impairment. Therefore they should not be excluded from societal functions, especially labour market participation as they are consistently viewed as less productive in the work place than their non disabled counterparts.

The disabled in occupations

The orthodox association of work with wage labour has included the continuous exclusion of people with impairments on the basis that they are thought to be unable to conform to the demands of the labour market and its work discipline. However, the pre capitalist societies have looked at the society as interdependent where people with accredited impairments are more often included (Priestley et al., 2007; Barnes, 2007). In any case, impaired people are dominantly relegated to the margins of unpaid work and recently, the level of exclusion from paid market is clearly evident and around sixty percent of disabled people of working age are not in paid work and unemployment rates are three times more than their non-disabled counterparts. They also have longer periods of waiting for employments and for those who develop impairments while on the job, loose their jobs within one year. The national survey data indicates that disabled people are under represented in professional and managerial occupations and are concentrated in unskilled, low- status occupations, with low pay and social isolation (Mercer and Barnes, 2008; Mensour, 2006). There are notably fewer than average disabled people among senior officials, professional and management groups and also sales and customer service occupations. They are predominantly seen in such occupations like skilled trade, secretarial occupations, elementary and personal service occupations. They are also more likely to work part time in the public sector or manufacturing industries or be self employed (Smith and Twomey, 2002)

However, measures and policies such as the disabled persons employment act 1944 has been used to promote the mixture of the demand for and supply of disabled people into the workforce. Here, schemes require employers with at least twenty employees to recruit at least three percent of the work force from the disabled persons employment register. This has not particularly increased the number of the disabled work force as employers are still reluctant to employ the disabled and will rather pay a fine. Other strategies for employment of the disabled include setting employment targets and awarding of public sector contracts and grants for the employment of disabled people (Barnes, 2007).

Again, (DDA) disability discrimination act has addressed the unreasonable discrimination in the workplace, ranging from terms of employment, recruitment, training, promotions to working conditions, however, they give employers the latitude to reject the employment of disabled people on the basis that they may damage their businesses. A significant amount of policies have been put in place to facilitate disabled peoples entry into paid work, such as the (DAS) Disablement advisory service, (PACTs) placement assessment and counseling teams e.t.c. these measures, instigate the enhancement of skills through training and development of disabled people, making them more attractive to employers rather than making the work force more assessable and supportive to the disabled employees. However, individuals who have impairment of very high degrees, have been totally excluded from any form of employment opportunity as the task they can perform is very limited and reduces their potential productivity. Hence, disability is a source of employment disadvantage (Berthoud, 2008) and their employment rate varies according to the medical condition they report, the type of impairment they experience and the overall severity of those impairments. However, disabled people who have gotten a high degree of education are much more likely to have jobs or be offered jobs by employers.

Most industrialized countries, take paid work to be a key signifier of class, status and power. This connotes that people on the margins of the labour market face a verity of economic, political and social deprivation. This category of distributive injustice is however, wildly experienced by disabled people throughout the developed world. The latest figures for the united kingdom, suggests that about fifty present of disabled people are economically inactive, neither working or in the process of actively seeking for work, compared with fifteen percent of their non-disabled counterparts (Priestley et al,. 2007) Although unemployment among people labeled with learning difficulties and or designated "mental illness" is especially high, but invariably, for all impairment types, the labour market disadvantage is substantially high.

Factors that influence the employment outcomes and prospects of disabled people.

Disabled people are disproportionately clustered in low skill jobs, with low pay and fewer promotion prospects and over represented in occupations such as shelters workshop (Berthoud, 2008). They are most significantly underrepresented in high management jobs which have better security and opportunities for promotion and growth and are noted to be less than 25% of that of their non-disabled counterparts (Barnes, 2007).

Up on till now, both the social and official analysis of work and disability, have failed to address in sufficient depth or breadth the various social and environmental barriers that confront disabled people in the labour market (Ibid). however, there are many variables that can constitute as an impediment and influential factor to employment outcomes and prospects of disabled people.

They include the employers attitude and concerns about the employment of disabled people, characteristics/ severity of their impairment, demographic characteristics, economic characteristics, work requirement, applicant attitude, technological factors, organizational factors, e.t.c.

Employers attitude: an employers decision to hire and retain an employee can be influenced by a number of variables. To the employer, productivity, performance appearance, financial cost, attendance, turnover and punctuality of employee skills, were mentioned as top reasons for not employing disabled people.

Some disabled people are endowed with abilities and potentials that will be significant in any organization and will help to participate effectively within their social groups, however most employers have been noted to have negative attitudes and discriminator behaviors towards disabled people and specifically refuse to have them because of their conditions hence this denies them of social inclusion and a source of getting the necessary financial resources needed for their well being. On the other hand, depending on the form of disability, employers may have a positive attitude towards disabled people. (Mensour, .......) studied the degree of satisfaction of workplace supervisors towards the performance of employees with learning disability and found that their performance was high, in relation to punctuality, attendance and ability to accept constructive criticism although they were low in social skills, learning transfer and use of memory. Hence, sometimes, there could be favorable attitudes towards the employment potential of individuals with disabilities (Ibid)

Under the employers attitude, other factors follow, the individual factor, management factor, and social factor.

The individual factor: this is the inappropriate social behavior an employer may have against the disables applicant or employee. Here, the employer shows his loyalty to the organization by taking into consideration during the hireing of disabled people the fact that jobs are to be done at a satisfactory standereds and that most task are to be performed appropriately with less difficulty in adapting to change.

Management factors: To employers/management, the employment of disabled people are usually not in their long term plans, as some times, they face nagetive consequences in hiring disabled people when there is the availablilty of a large skilled and able work force, as disabled people most times may not get the job done appriopraitely.

Social factors: this has to do with the negative responses gotten from custormers that may disrupt or damge business prospects. Therefore the belief in social responsibilities and the concerns about the negative response gotten from customers appear to be an important factor employers take into consideration in relation to employing disabled people.

Steriotype. This is yet another factor that can influence the employment and prospects of disabled people. When evaluating how suitable a disabled person is to be employed, non-disabled people tend to focus on their disability rather than their ability because they are largely regarded as hard to employ. The wide spread misconception is that disabled people represent health and safety risks for the organization at large, and that they are also noted or seen to have higher sickness rates, hence, they will be less productive, perform significantly lower than their non-disabled counterparts and will be more costly to employ (Nagi,2001)

It is also noted that disabled people will not fit in with other employees as they may feel uneasy or embarrassed as their presence. All these perceptions and perceived difficulties in the employment of disabled people expose stereotypical beliefs about the employment of disabled people.

Applicant attitudes. Most impaired workers are sometimes viewed to be motivated and capable of participating in satisfactory employment, but that it's the employers receptivity that hinders the placement of impaired workers, but evidence indicates (Nagi, 2001) that most impaired workers attitudes as applicants often form a barrier to employment.

Most attitudes of workers and their satisfaction during employment is mostly related to the goal, objectives and interests in the work and most times ,the ability to correlate their aspirations with their abilities. Again, most disabled workers have some degree of uncertainty and insecurity as well as anxiety due to the inability to meet up with the expectations of the employer. Here, the negative attitude of the disabled worker is due to his assessment and realization that his capacities may not meet up with his work requirements. These attitudes have been found to affect the employment and placement of disabled people (Achterberg et al., 2009)

Economic / Cost factors: employers also have expressed concerns over the health and the safety expenses accompanied by the employment of disability. They also note the possible high rates of absenteeism associated with the employment of disabled people. Cost condition is therefore one of the most commonly cited reasons for the negative attitudes of employers in relation to the employment of disabled workers. The reasons for increased cost results as a result of longer periods of training made available due to the incapability's of workers, major increase in insurance rates and the expenses cost by liabilities as a result of injuries or further complications of the impairment. Again, the necessity for special work arrangements so that the disabled worker may find the environment suitable and increase in production cost, also act as a means 4 increased cost. These fears of economic cost therefore influence the employment prospects of disabled people.

Other commentators however feel that cost factors represent an unrealistic reason for the unemployment of the disabled and that the fear of increased cost, only represents a subjective interpretation rather than the real experience of most employers (Achterberg et el., 2009). They argue that schemes such as the second injury fund is aimed at reliving employers from the compensation cost of injuries, but to some employers, even when all objections related to cost factors are overcome, they still feel that a disabled worker may still cost them some sort of inconvenience. However, economic factors, be it real or imagined, happens to instigate a certain amount of influence on the receptivity of employers to the hiring of disabled workers.

Work Requirement. This has to do with what is required from the job description. Some jobs may require some adjustments on the part of the worker and changes in the work situation. The problem here may be the training and skills required for the job. Some organizations, exclude some sort of impairments for particular jobs, (example an individual who is vocally impaired, dumb, cannot work as a receptionist, however an individual with a mild eye problem can work as one). Some other firms may exclude other types of impairment for the same job, but in any case, there is no uniformity in standards for setting the work requirements for impaired workers. But work requirement could act as a challenge in the employment of impaired workers. However, some work requirement have been set in place for disabled people and some organizations use pre-employment physical exams to determine if the prospective employee can meet up with the demands of the position they desire (Barnes, 2007).

Technological factors: Rapid changes in technology have been noted to have an impact on the employment prospects of disabled workers (Achterberg, 2009). On the positive side of the continuum, automation helps the disabled worker by reducing the physical requirements for the job and also curbing the time for required training especially if there is need for the operation of complex machinery. On the other hand, that is the negative side of the continuum, reports show that a result of automation is the restriction of the availability of unskilled and semi skilled work, where disabled workers are largely placed (Nagi, 2001)

Organizational factors: this has to do with the organization during the consideration of the employment on impaired workers. They include the size, the hiring practice and policies in the organization. Large firms are noted to be often more willing to employ disabled workers as opposed to small firms, as they may have more openings and are ready to hire disabled workers who have experience. Small firms on the other hand may reject the employment of disabled workers as they are still trying to grow and hence the need to maintain reputation and reduce cost (Rummery, 2006).

The severity of the impairment. Another factor that can pose as a limitation ti the employment of disabled workers, is the severity of the impairment, example, workers who have sever psychological disorders, are usually not employed for fear or danger, either self inflicted or on others in the work environment, also, an individual with a spinal injury who cannot move may not be considered for employment, as there is significantly no form of motor functioning. However, other forms of impairment as being deaf, can be considered for employment if they are to be employed in places where heavy machinery is to be operated as the noise may not inflict further harm, similarly, a cripple, can be employed as a receptionist or a switch board phine operator. Here there is really no need for movement.


The concept of employment for the disabled has arisen different controversies, as most times, they are perceived to be vulnerable, incapable of participating in paid work and hence excluded from the society. however measures, such as the management of diversity and other organizations have arisen to fight for the rights of the disabled in the society especially in the work environment. Irrespective of how concrete these measure may be, disabled people are notably the most discriminated group of minorities in the world at large.

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