top of page

Understanding Ableism Barriers

Updated: Aug 14

Author(s): Intisar Farah

All through time, people commonly categorize individuals solely according to their disability because society has long strived to define where disabilities fit into the social order based on societal conceptions of disability. With approximately 110 million individuals facing severe functional challenges, the prevalence of disability is rising, making it a developing subject within public health (Cavanagh et al., 2019). According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, "persons with disabilities include those who have ongoing physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments that, when combined with other factors, may prevent them from fully and effectively participating in society on an equal basis with others" (Vornholt et al., 2018). Therefore, disability refers to the negative effects of a person with a disability and their contextual conditions, and it is the general word for impairments, activity limits, and participation restraints (Vornholt et al., 2018).

When discussing those with disabilities, we acknowledge that physical and environmental factors can both contribute to a person's disability, highlighting the fact that disability does not refer to a medical idea of body or functional impairment, but rather to the interplay of person and environment (Vornholt et al., 2018). In terms of employment, individuals with disabilities represent a minority of the workforce. The type and degree of disability at work result from both the body or functional impairment but also the work context, which are the work demands and the work environment the person with impairment is confronted with (Vornholt et al., 2018). The degree of a person's disability at work is determined by both their physical or functional limits and the nature of their profession, including the activities that must be completed and the environment. While defining disability, it is important to take into consideration both the work-related activities and capacities of a person with a physical or mental disorder as well as the disabling elements in their surroundings (Vornholt et al., 2018).

Barriers in employment by individuals with disability

For the majority of adults, even those with a work disability, work has profound and significant meanings that can inspire people to resume their employment and is linked to higher self-esteem and greater physical and mental health (Theis et al., 2018). Numerous employees lose the chance to advance in their careers due to the clash of work disabilities. Due to this, complaints of depression, anxiety, and emotional issues as a reason for job disabilities in both men and women have increased, although the younger demographic is more affected (Theis et al., 2018). Job disability may result in individual financial or health losses, prolonged or frequent sick breaks, or even lower work performance, according to Lappalainen et al. (2019). Additionally, research supported by Vornholt et al. (2018) has demonstrated that applicants who disclosed their disability in their application materials were invited to job interviews less frequently than those with a comparable application though without a disability. With these reasons expressly conveyed, this exemplifies the common subject of preconceptions held by employers, who commonly assume that disabled employees are a hardship rather than a resource of additional benefit to the organization or that they are unable to function as successfully as employees without impairments.

Moreover, coworkers and supervisors may fail to admit their awareness of the valuable contribution that people with disabilities can make to the workplace. According to Vornholt et al. (2018) and Theis et al. (2018), biased perceptions about the capacities of employees with disabilities include that they are helpless, lack the ability to create new capacities, and are unable to function at a level that is comparable to that of their coworkers. One of the main worries of employees at work seems to be how a coworker with a disability performs. Lappalainen et al. (2019) also noted that despite receiving the right education and training that equips them with knowledge that dispels such misunderstandings and biased views, businesses still have reservations about hiring people with disabilities. Thus, those who believe that a disabled coworker is to blame for the increased load and difficulty of the job base their thoughts on assumptions rather than an employee's performance, since they have lower expectations and more negative attitudes toward employees with disabilities (Vornholt et al., 2018).

Stigma and Negative attitudes

Distrust and fear of coworkers or managers over the disability are frequent examples of negative attitudes toward individuals with disabilities that are often accompanied by a misperception of disability (Vornholt et al., 2018). For one of the most stigmatized groups in society, people with mental health issues are particularly prone to encountering such mistrust since their impairment is unseen and their abilities and limitations are not always obvious. This may have a number of detrimental effects at work, including the refusal of essential workplace accommodations. However, according to Graham et al. (2019), research has revealed that depending on the specifics of their behavioural disorders, individuals with various disability groups perceive employment discrimination differently. Although, Cavanagh et al. (2019) and Theis et al. (2018) explain that despite the wide categories of impairments, each disabled person still endures personal suffering and societal harm. Instead of ignoring this, we should concentrate on measures to end stigma and discrimination in the workplace. People with disabilities still encounter major challenges to work despite human rights legislation, anti-discrimination laws, and programs and services committed to providing employment assistance and opportunities to these people (Vornholt et al., 2018). As a result, the attitude and openness of the company as well as their experience hiring people with disabilities are the main determinants of whether workplace inclusion benefits or disadvantages employees with disabilities.

Ways to Improve the Health and Safety of Disabled Workers

Based on the five research articles, researchers all provide various recommendations for methods to enhance workplace health and safety since doing so will help dispel erroneous ideas and information about people with disabilities. Researchers propose that more research should be conducted on the various disability groups in order to give more specialized interventions to recognize the various challenges encountered (Graham et al., 2019), and through this additional research on interventions, it will also improve health outcomes (Theis et al., 2018). Workplace treatments for individuals with disabilities were helpful for work disability based on the quality evidence, but there was no evidence for better overall health outcomes, highlighting the need for research on efficient interventions for workplace disability. This can assist in identifying various concerns and difficulties that are not being identified throughout the workforce, assuring worker health and safety.

Secondly, work disability management is a complicated entity in which the employer, supervisor, and health care providers all play roles. According to Lappalainen et al. (2019), at least two types of jobs play the most important role in guaranteeing the assistance of impaired employees. This includes the fact that a supervisor may be the first to detect a work disability and that the supervisor's role is critical in permitting job adjustment (Lappalainen et al., 2019). As a result, it is crucial to confirm that the supervisor is able to make the required efforts to establish an inclusive workplace where people with disabilities may get the respect they are entitled.

For equitable groups like individuals with disabilities, education and training can increase career possibilities. Evidence-based self-management education programs have demonstrated to enhance physical function, postpone and reduce disability, and may have advantages that extend to minimizing job disability outside of workplace treatments (Theis et al., 2018). However, people with disabilities should also pursue higher education and training. It can also assist professionals in eradicating their misconceived notions and preconceptions. Cavanagh et al. (2019) imply that education and training for those with disabilities may be able to increase their productivity to complete job tasks and retrain acquired skills and abilities, as this will encourage and ensure that their disability does not affect their ability, motivation, and commitment to complete job-specific tasks. It is essential to provide a framework for disability that allows for generalization and investigate how people perceive disability in order to combat negative attitudes, stigmatization, and discrimination (Vornholt et al., 2018). This will highlight people's opinions and lead to initiatives that can assist workers in learning more about workplace disabilities.

In conclusion, effective treatments and preventative measures have the potential to reduce the unjust treatment that individuals with disabilities face in the workplace. Despite various attempts to encourage the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in the workplace through public policy and law, it still doesn't eliminate the negative issues individuals with disabilities face. This required the creation of a more in-depth understanding of prejudices, stigma, and expectations regarding people with various impairments, as well as an analysis of how to successfully combat these problems. According to research, making the workplace more friendly and welcoming can help people with disabilities develop confidence to perform more than simply their regular jobs. This vulnerable group will not be fully incorporated into the larger workforce unless the working environment is absolutely supportive and helpful.


Cavanagh, J., Meacham, H., Cabrera, P. P., & Bartram, T. (2019). Vocational learning for

workers with intellectual disability: interventions at two case study sites. Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 71(3), 350–367.

Graham, K. M., McMahon, B. T., Kim, J. H., Simpson, P., & McMahon, M. C. (2019).

Patterns of Workplace Discrimination Across Broad Categories of Disability. Rehabilitation Psychology, 64(2), 194–202.

Lappalainen, L., Liira, J., Lamminpää, A., & Rokkanen, T. (2019). “Work Disability Negotiations: Supervisors’ View of Work Disability and Collaboration with Occupational Health Services. Disability and Rehabilitation. 41(17), 2015-2025.

Theis, K. A., Roblin, D. W., Helmick, C. G., & Luo, R. (2018). Prevalence and causes of

work disability among working-age U.S. adults, 2011–2013, NHIS. Disability and Health Journal, 11(1), 108–115.

Vornholt, K., Villotti, P., Muschalla, B., Bauer, J., Colella, A., Zijlstra, F., Van Ruitenbeek, G., Uitdewilligen, S., & Corbière, M. (2018). Disability and employment – overview and highlights, European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 27(1), 40-55.

15 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Author(s): Rebecca Dias According to a study by Grigore (2020), 62% of workers called in absent when they weren’t ill. This is one form of absenteeism, which can simply be defined as not going to work

Author(s): Nabeeha Habeeb When an individual has a chronic condition, finding a job can be exceedingly challenging; but for people with chronic conditions that are working a full-time job, it can be e

bottom of page