Chapter 5:

Employment



Scientists and Engineers With Disabilities

Representation in Science and Engineering 

Persons with disabilities are also underrepresented in science and engineering occupations. Comparisons of data on participation of persons with disabilities are difficult because of differences in definition.[12]  It appears, however, that persons with disabilities are a smaller proportion of the science and engineering labor force than they are of the labor force in general. About 20 percent of the U.S. population have some form of disability, and about 10 percent have a severe disability[13]  (McNeil, 1993). Persons with disabilities are 14 percent of all employed persons[14]  and 5 percent of employed scientists and engineers. (See text table 1-1 and appendix table 5-7.)

The representation of persons with disabilities in the science and engineering population can be estimated by comparing the results of the NSF SESTAT surveys with similar results from the Bureau of the Census Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP).[15]  The 1993–1994 SIPP used questions for measuring disability that are quite similar to those in the NSF surveys (McNeil, 1993). This provides an opportunity to make some approximate comparisons between the science and engineering population and the larger population.

Comparisons of the two survey results indicate that persons with sight and hearing disabilities are not underrepresented and persons with mobility impairments are underrepresented among scientists and engineers. The Survey of Income and Program Participation found that in 1994–1995, 2.4 percent of the population of 15 to 64 years olds reported that they were unable to see words and letters even when wearing glasses or contact lenses. The comparable figure from the 1995 NSF Surveys was 2.3 percent. In the total population, 2.7 percent were unable to hear normal conversations even when using a hearing aid, compared with 3.0 percent of the scientists and engineers. On the other hand, 4.8 percent of the general population reported being unable to lift a 10-pound bag of groceries, compared with 1.6 percent of the scientists and engineers. Of the total population, 5.2 percent were unable to walk unassisted or climb stairs compared with 1.4 percent of the scientists and engineers. (See appendix table 5-28.)[18]  [19] 

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Measuring Disabilities for Persons
in the Labor Force 

As noted in chapter 1, there is no consensus on the definition of disabilities. This means that in examining statistics related to disabilities, it is necessary to understand the definition used in compiling the statistics.

NSF’s surveys use a functional definition of disability patterned after one developed for a planned survey of individuals with disabilities developed by the Census Bureau. This measure is based on asking individuals, "What is the USUAL degree of difficulty you have with [specific tasks involving seeing, hearing, walking, and lifting]?"[16]  Respondents are given five choices for each response, ranging from "none" to "unable to do." Unless elsewhere noted, having a disability is defined for this survey as having at least moderate difficulty in performing one or more of these tasks. Although this definition was designed to provide a relatively objective measure of disability, it is important to note that not all disabilities are captured by this measure. For example, learning disabilities and behavioral disorders are not included.[17] 



Age Distribution 

The proportion of scientists and engineers with disabilities increases with age. More than half became disabled at age 30 or older. (See figure 5-13.) Only 7 percent had been disabled since birth, and 30 percent had been disabled before the age of 20. (See appendix table 5-29.)

Labor Force Participation, Employment, and Unemployment 

The labor force participation rates of scientists and engineers with and without disabilities are quite different. Almost one-third of scientists and engineers with disabilities are out of the labor force, compared with 11 percent of those without disabilities. (See appendix table 5-30 and figure 5-14.) Age accounts for some, but not all, of the differences in labor force participation. Scientists and engineers with disabilities are older than those without disabilities (40 percent of those with disabilities are age 50 or older compared with 20 percent of those without disabilities), and older scientists and engineers are likely to be out of the labor force due to retirements. Age, however, does not explain all of the differences in labor force participation. Within age categories, scientists and engineers with disabilities are still more likely than those without disabilities to be out of the labor force. For example, among those between the ages of 35 and 44, 7 percent of scientists and engineers with disabilities are unemployed or out of the labor force compared with 4 percent of those without disabilities. Among those age 55 or older, 61 percent of scientists and engineers with disabilities are out of the labor force compared with 42 percent of those without disabilities.

Although age accounts for some of the tendency for persons with disabilities to be out of the labor force, chronic illness or permanent disability is also a factor. The primary reason for not working for both persons with and without disabilities was retirement (75 percent versus 60 percent), but 21 percent of persons with disabilities and 2 percent of those without disabilities cited chronic illness or permanent disability. (See appendix table 5-4.)

Among those in the labor force, persons with disabilities are more likely than those without disabilities to be unemployed. The 1995 unemployment rate for scientists and engineers with disabilities was 4.0 percent compared to 2.1 percent for those without disabilities. (See appendix table 5-30.)

The percentage of scientists and engineers in the labor force who were employed part time in 1995 was the same for those with and without disabilities (6 percent).

Field of Science and Engineering 

Persons with disabilities are not particularly concentrated in certain fields: 30 percent of scientists and engineers both with and without disabilities were in computer science and mathematics occupations and 9 percent of both were in physical sciences. (See appendix table 5-31.) Similar proportions of scientists and engineers with and without disabilities were in engineering (41 percent versus 42 percent), in life sciences (8 percent versus 10 percent), and in social sciences (12 percent versus 10 percent).

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Misconceptions Can Limit Job Opportunities 

Misconceptions about the ability of those with physical or learning disabilities to succeed in science and engineering persist. These misconceptions deter many young people with disabilities from pursuing careers in science and engineering and can limit the job opportunities for both those who obtain degrees in science and engineering and those who develop disabilities later in life (Woods, 1997). Young people can be discouraged by parents, teachers, and others from pursuing careers in science. As one working chemist with limited vision recalls, "Nobody wanted me to be a chemist...everyone thought it was crazy for a kid, almost blind, to major in chemistry. I had to fight my parents, the school, teachers, guidance counselors, and the state vocational rehabilitation agency" (p. 9). Safety is often the primary concern of parents, teachers, and employers, yet with proper training and accommodations, scientists and engineers with disabilities present no more of a safety hazard than those without disabilities.

According to the American Chemical Society’s Committee on Chemists with Disabilities, not all chemists with disabilities require accommodations, and many of those who do require few accommodations, most of which are not costly. For example, making an emergency shower wheelchair accessible can simply require adding a chain. In interviews with a number of working chemists with disabilities, the committee found that the accommodations needed varied depending on the nature of the work and the nature of the disability. Decisions on what accommodations are needed were arrived at jointly between the employee and the employer or the student and the university.

Accommodations used by working chemists varied from simple and common procedures and technologies to more high-tech equipment. Some are as simple as allowing the scientist to work at home; planning in advance; providing simple encouragement and patience while a disabled colleague finds ways to adapt; providing flexible work hours; having access to computers, e-mail, voicemail, and faxes; and making adjustments in height of equipment, desks, valves, switches, ramps, or platforms. Some involve more complicated but nevertheless commonly available technology, such as voice recognition software, TTD, visual alarms, voice-synthesizer cards for computers, and printers that output Braille.

The committee found that attitudes are often the most important accommodation—a focus by both the employee and the employer on what they can rather than what they cannot do.



Educational Background 

Scientists and engineers with disabilities do not differ in educational background from those without disabilities: 13 percent of both have the doctorate as their highest degree. (See appendix table 5-31.)

Sector of Employment 

Scientists and engineers with disabilities are less likely than those without disabilities to be employed in for-profit business or industry. Fifty-five percent of scientists and engineers with disabilities compared with 62 percent of those without disabilities were employed in for-profit business or industry in 1995. Eighteen percent of those without disabilities and 19 percent of those with disabilities are employed in educational institutions. (See appendix table 5-7.)

Academic Employment 

Faculty who have disabilities are more likely than those without disabilities to be full professors and to be tenured. (See appendix tables 5-9 and 5-10.) These differences in rank and tenure between persons with or without disabilities, as was noted in the discussions of women and minorities, can be explained by differences in age. Because incidence of disability increases with age, scientists and engineers with disabilities tend to be older and to have greater years of professional work experience than those without disabilities. Among doctoral scientists and engineers employed full time in 4-year colleges or universities of similar ages, rank and tenure status are more similar. For example, among those between 45 and 54 years old, 70 percent of those with disabilities and 73 percent of those without disabilities are tenured. (See appendix table 5-10.) Similarly, among those in that same age group, 57 percent of faculty both with and without disabilities are full professors.

Science and engineering faculty with disabilities are less likely to have publications than those without disabilities. Twenty-two percent of those with disabilities and 17 percent of those without disabilities had no publications since 1990. (See appendix table 5-11.) Faculty with disabilities had fewer publications than those without disabilities–43 percent of those with disabilities and 46 percent of those without disabilities had 6 or more publications since 1990. Faculty with disabilities (38 percent) were also less likely than those without disabilities (45 percent) to have been supported on federal grants or contracts. (See appendix table 5-12.)

Nonacademic Employment 

The type of work that scientists and engineers with disabilities do is similar to the type of work done by those without disabilities. The primary work activity of 37 percent of scientists and engineers with disabilities is research and development, compared to 38 percent of those without disabilities. Twenty-five percent of scientists and engineers with disabilities and 21 percent of those without disabilities are in management or administration. (See appendix table 5-13.) Among those with supervisory responsibilities, persons with and without disabilities have about the same number of subordinates. The average number of subordinates for persons with disabilities is 12 and the average number of subordinates for persons without disabilities is 11. (See appendix table 5-14.)

Persons with disabilities do not differ from those without disabilities in terms of employer size–45 percent of those without disabilities and 46 percent of those with disabilities work for large firms (5,000 or more employees). Four percent of both work for very small firms (fewer than 10 employees). (See appendix table 5-15.)

Natural scientists and engineers with disabilities were less likely than those without disabilities to have patents–32 percent of those with disabilities and 38 percent of those without disabilities had been named as an inventor on a patent since 1990. (See appendix table 5-16.)

Salaries 

Median salaries of scientists and engineers with disabilities do not differ substantially from median salaries for those without disabilities. Among all scientists and engineers, the median salary for those with disabilities is $51,000; for those without disabilities, it is $50,000. Salaries differ little within fields and age groups as well. For example, the median salary for engineers with bachelor’s degrees and between the ages of 20 and 29 is $41,000 for those with disabilities and $38,000 for those without disabilities. Among those age 50 or older, the median salary for engineers with disabilities is $60,000 and the median salary for engineers without disabilities is $61,000. (See appendix table 5-32.)

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Footnotes


[12] The data on persons with disabilities in science and engineering are seriously limited for several reasons. First, there have been differing operational definitions of "disability" that include a wide range of physical and mental conditions. Different sets of data have used different definitions and thus are not totally comparable. Second, data about disabilities are frequently not included in comprehensive institutional records (e.g., in registrars’ records in institutions of higher education). The third limitation on information on persons with disabilities gathered from surveys is that it often is obtained from self-reported responses. Typically, respondents are asked if they have a disability and to specify what kind of disability it is. Resulting data, therefore, reflect individual decisions to self-identify, not objective measures. Finally, data users should understand that sample sizes for the population of disabled persons may be small and care should be taken in interpreting the data.

[13] Estimates of the proportion of the population with disabilities vary due to differing definitions of "disability." See appendix A for a discussion of the limitations of estimates of the size of this group.

[14] U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. 1994. "Americans with Disabilities" Statistical Brief SB/94-1.

[15] Since there were several differences between the two surveys, comparisons can be made only for certain segments of the two populations.

[16] The full wording of these alternatives in the survey forms is "SEEING words or letters in ordinary newsprint (with glasses/contact lenses if you usually wear them)," "HEARING what is normally said in conversation with another person (with hearing aid, if you usually wear one)," "WALKING without assistance (human or mechanical) or using stairs," "LIFTING or carrying something as heavy as 10 pounds, such as a bag of groceries."

[17] Additional measures of types of disability were omitted from the surveys due to practical limitations. The disability questions included in the questionnaires were considered burdensome and intrusive by many respondents. The survey designers were concerned that additional questions in this area would have a serious negative impact on the overall response rate and the validity of the surveys. This would be especially true if the surveys requested information on highly sensitive disabilities.

[18] The question used in the SESTAT surveys combined stair climbing and walking, whereas the Survey of Income and Program participation asked about these two activities separately. The rate reported for the latter survey is for the activity with the higher reported disability rate.

[19] Small cell sizes restrict the analysis of types of disability to overall percentages of the science and engineering population.


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