by Sarah Garcia, former Minnesota Compass research scientist

The 30th anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 2020 revitalized public conversations surrounding the successes and the limitations of the law. Title I of the ADA focused on employment, with the goal of increasing the low percentage of people with disabilities in the workforce. Despite these efforts, employment among people with disabilities remains low. I examined recent trends in employment and leadership among people with disabilities. 

Employment has increased among people with disabilities, but still remains low

Minnesota fares better than the nation in terms of employment among people with disabilities, with employment consistently around five percentage points higher than the nation as a whole. Additionally, employment among people with disabilities has increased in recent years in Minnesota and the U.S., although it remains below employment among people without disabilities.

People with disabilities are underrepresented in leadership positions

Like employment, the percentage of Minnesotans with disabilities who hold leadership positions is also low, particularly in business occupations. Nearly 8% of all Minnesotans age 25+ have a disability, compared to 4% of leaders in the workforce.

We intentionally chose the 25+ group as a comparison group so that we’re only looking at those people who are “eligible” or “likely” to be working and in a leadership position.

Strategies for employers to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)

When working to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, disability status is also important to consider—and protect—in employment. Improving employment and leadership roles among people with disabilities will likely take more than legislation. Responsibility also lies on the employer to create accessible and inclusive environments. Increasing accessibility and instituting inclusive policies and practices will lead to healthier and happier employees. Multifaceted strategies are most effective in increasing leadership among people with disabilities and DEI overall:

  • Advertise available positions in locations most likely to be seen by individuals from underrepresented groups
  • Convey commitment to DEI in the workplace in job postings and through proactive recruitment of underrepresented groups
  • Cluster hire, which can reduce tokenism and stigmatization and increase diversity (even when increasing diversity was not the goal)
  • Provide readily accessible information about accommodations 
  • Implement staff programming efforts such as employee resources groups and mentoring programs that incorporate input from underrepresented groups
  • Use objective measures of performance in reviews
  • Be mindful of placing additional unofficial workload burden on individuals from underrepresented groups (e.g., asking workers with disabilities to serve on DEI committees)
  • Collect information from employees to understand DEI issues within the organization to inform prioritization efforts and areas of concern to target
  • Work to create a workplace culture that values DEI
  • Identify clear, measureable goals for DEI initiatives and regularly assess progress toward those goals

In addition, employers can use universal design strategies to create workplace environments that are functional and reduce barriers for as many people as possible[SH3] . Some examples might include: providing information in a variety of formats including visual and audio, use of large texts and symbols, ergonomic workspaces, adequate lighting that can be manipulated, minimal noise level, and elimination of obstacles in paths of travel.


For more resources on increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace and increasing leadership potential, see the following: