Ready, Willing, and Able

by Sarah Cunningham

July 21, 2021

On July 26, the United States celebrates the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, education, transportation, state and local government services, public accommodations, telecommunications, and commercial facilities.

In Oregon, there were about 587,000 people with disabilities on average from 2015 to 2019, according to the American Community Survey. This represented roughly 14% of Oregon’s civilian noninstitutionalized population. Among the population of working age, those 18 to 64, about 298,000 had disabilities.
Older people are more likely to have a disability. In Oregon, 50% of individuals ages 75 years and older have a disability and about 6% of the population ages five to 17 have a disability. The first chart shows the frequency of types of disabilities for all Oregonians.

Although the frequency of most types of disabilities increases with age, ambulatory (walking), hearing, and independent living difficulties showed the most dramatic increases for people over age 65. Twenty-two percent of seniors reported an ambulatory difficulty compared with 7% of people of all ages. Seventeen percent of seniors reported a hearing difficulty compared with 5% of all people. Thirteen percent of seniors reported an independent living difficulty compared with 6% of the overall population.

The share of the population with a disability varies by race and ethnicity. American Indians or Alaska Natives in Oregon are the most likely to have a disability at 20% of the population. Oregon’s White alone and Black alone populations are about equally likely to have a disability at roughly 15% of their populations, respectively. Fourteen percent of those identifying as two or more races reported having a disability. Asians, Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders, and those identifying as some other race were the least likely to report having a disability at 8% for Asians, Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders and 7% for those identifying as some other race. Eight percent of Hispanic or Latino people in Oregon, who can identify as any race, reported having a disability.

American Indians and Alaska Natives had a higher share of the population with a disability compared with the state as a whole despite being relatively younger, with a median age of 35.2 years compared with Oregon’s overall median age of 39.3 years. Those identifying as Black alone and as two or more races had similar shares of their populations with a disability as the state as a whole despite being relatively younger at 32.7 years and 24.8 years, respectively.

Men and women were about equally as likely to report having a disability at 15% and 14%, respectively.

Veterans were more likely to report having a disability at 34% of the population ages 18 years and older compared with 17% of the overall adult population.

Employment of People with Disabilities

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 12.6% nationally in 2020, 4.5 percentage points higher than that of people with no disability. This national unemployment rate for people with disabilities was higher than for many other groups of people who have high historical rates of unemployment: African Americans (11.4% vs. 12.6%), Hispanics (10.4% vs. 12.6%), foreign-born workers (9.2% vs. 12.6%), and people without a high school diploma (11.7% vs. 12.6%). Teenagers ages 16 to 19 years did have a higher rate of unemployment (17.9%) than people with disabilities.

Among the population ages 18 to 64, about 119,000 Oregonians with disabilities were employed and 17,000 were unemployed on average between 2015 and 2019. About 162,000 were not in the labor force. There is a big difference in the employment rates between Oregonians with a disability and those without a disability. About 25% of Oregonians ages 16 years or older with disabilities were employed versus 67% of those with no disabilities. People who are neither employed nor unemployed are not in the labor force. About 72% of Oregonians with disabilities were not in the labor force versus 30% of those with no disabilities.

Oregonians with disabilities hold a variety of jobs. The relative popularity of occupations is fairly similar for people with and without a disability, except relatively fewer people with a disability work in management, business, science, and arts occupations and relatively more work in service occupations and production, transportation and material moving occupations.
This may be a reflection of different educational outcomes for Oregonians with disabilities. Nineteen percent of people with a disability had a bachelor’s degree or higher versus 37% of those without a disability. Fourteen percent of people with a disability didn’t graduate high school versus only 8% of people without a disability.

Occupational differences also portend the smaller proportion of people with disabilities in higher income groups. About 35% of working people ages 16 and over without a disability earned $50,000 or more in the 12 months prior to answering the 2015 to 2019 survey versus only 22% of people with a disability.

Earnings for people with disabilities are lower than for those with no disabilities. Oregonians with disabilities had median earnings of $22,262 compared with median earnings of $34,557 for Oregonians without disabilities. Women with disabilities had lower earnings than men with disabilities. From 2015 to 2019, women’s earnings ($17,669) represented about two-thirds (65.4%) of men’s earnings ($27,036).

Striving to Work

A 2015 study on disability, the Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey, examined how people ages 18 to 64 with disabilities strive to work. It showed that 68% of this group did strive to work, 43% did so by being employed, 7% had worked since the onset of a disability and were actively looking for another job, and 17% had worked since the onset of a disability but weren’t actively looking for work. About 61% of all respondents said that work was very important to them, and 41% of those employed said that they wanted to work more hours per week.

The Kessler survey also looked at barriers individuals with disabilities faced in gaining employment. Some challenges were common to any job seeker, such as lack of education or transportation (although getting suitable education or transportation may be a challenge), but a major barrier was employers’ assumption that the person couldn’t do the job because of their disability. It was also a hard barrier to overcome; only a third of the job seekers were able to do so. Other barriers, such as family discouragement, were easier to overcome.
There were a variety of strategies the survey uncovered that people with disabilities used for preparing for jobs. The most common was obtaining medical treatment or rehabilitation, with 73% reporting using it. Getting help from friends and family was used by 62%, volunteering was used by 29%, and getting an assistive device or special equipment was used by 23%. In all, the survey reported on 11 techniques used in job preparation.

People with disabilities also searched for jobs using a variety of approaches. The most common ways were searching online and using friends and relatives. Only 23% used a government agency to look for work, and only 15% used a state vocational rehabilitation specialist. These percentages suggest room for improvement by agencies in serving people with disabilities.
Gateways to Employment

Several Oregon businesses offer specialized training and job coaching services to people with disabilities. Besides helping disabled workers find and keep jobs, these services can reduce company costs associated with new hires. To find out more about the benefits of hiring workers with disabilities, visit:

the Oregon Resource Association,
the Employment First policy of the Oregon Department of Human Services, and
the Ticket to Work program.

For assistance in hiring people with disabilities, visit the Employer Services site of the Office of Vocational and Rehabilitation Services and the Services for Employers site of the Oregon Commission for the Blind.

What Is a Disability?

Definitions of “disability” and “disabled” vary. The Americans with Disabilities Act, which governs many state and federal programs, defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Other programs have different definitions. The American Community Survey asks respondents if anyone in the home had difficulty with hearing, vision, remembering, walking, dressing, eating, or doing errands.

Many conditions can be disabling. While functional limitations from physical and sensory disabilities may be the more obvious barriers to employment, many other conditions can make it difficult to find or keep a job. Reading disabilities, mental health problems, chemical sensitivities, and medical conditions may not be as noticeable, but they can be just as limiting.

Read our related articles:
Employment Outcomes for Workers With Disabilities
Disclosing Your Disability in a Job Interview”.


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