Most HR professionals are aware of the biases that come along with hiring racial minorities and women. Can we now add disabilities to the list? This is an important question given the number of wounded veterans and others with disabilities in the workforce.

The paper describes how resumes were sent to accounting firms (of varying size) and listed no disability, Asperger’s Syndrome, or a spinal cord injury. Those with disabilities got about 25% fewer responses. Interestingly, the differences were largely explained by the size of the firm, with the smallest ones being less inclined to respond favorable to a resume from someone who is disabled.

While the study is interesting, I question the methodology. For instance, do people with disabilities normally put them on their resumes? Websites dedicated to helping those with disabilities find employment tell people NOT to. Also, it’s not required by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). I get the authors point and they are following a methodology used to measure discrimination against women and minorities based on their names, but I don’t think it generalizes to disabilities if listing it on a resume is not common practice.

However, if we assume that hesitancy to hire the disable generalizes from a resume to seeing someone in person, it is telling that smaller firms (<15 employees) were more likely to reject the disabled applicants than larger ones. These businesses account for about 18% of the employment in the U.S., so we’re not talking about small potatoes. Also, the ADA doesn’t apply to them, while there is a patchwork of state ADA-ish laws that might. As such, those companies may not be as aware of what is discrimination against the disabled or given much thought to reasonable accommodations. One can easily imagine the thinking (or subconscious) of one of these firms when they realize an applicant is disabled. What about my health insurance costs? How will I cover any additional days missed?

At the risk of being cynical, one can only suppose that those with disabilities face some level of discrimination. I am optimistic in thinking that every small business wants to hire the best person, regardless of disability. Maybe small business just needs some education on the topic.

For more information on recruiting and hiring those with the skills and abilities to do your work, please contact Warren Bobrow.