Improving Employment Outcomes for Employees with Disabilities

Leveling the Playing Field: Attracting, Engaging, and Advancing People with Disabilities - Executive Summary and Final Research Report available now - click here

Employers looking to have the most talented workforce have well-intentioned programs to help those with disabilities meet their full employment potential yet the workforce participation rate remains well below the non-disabled population. What are the strategies that organizations can use to have an engaged workforce to meet market challenges? 

This June, The Conference Board is launching a Research Working Group (RWG) to bring together a variety of corporations including Waste Management, Goldman Sachs and Bayer AG to uncover the data to determine the characteristics and practices of employers and behaviors of supervisors that contribute to positive employment outcomes. Member organizations of The Conference Board are encouraged to join and explore this important issue together.

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A Research Working Group to “compare notes” with peer firms

To provide richer understanding of how to better attract, retain, and promote people with disabilities while increasing employee engagement and productivity we are creating this Research Working Group -Improving Employment Outcomes for Employees with Disabilities. The group will create cross-functional insights for business and policy decision-makers, and increase incorporation of new findings into practice, by convening HR professionals with their non-HR colleagues.  A Research Working Group is a rapid and targeted deep dive into an emerging issue.  By exploring the issue, peer companies can develop a more robust perspective to inform decision-making and shape and create a platform for organizational action.  In the process they will work in a hands-on, confidential environment, with leading thinkers and thoughtful executives steeped in the topic and will be guided by The Conference Board Research Working Group team.  A Research Working Group is concluded with a detailed confidential report for participants, and the publication of a Conference Board Research Report.  This Research Working Group is being created with partial funding from Cornell ILR with a grant from the US Department of Education.  See Appendix for description of the grant program. 

This Research Working Group will focus on the following questions: 

  1. What are the best practices (i.e. organizational structure/managerial strategy) that lead to increased successful participation by the disabled in the workforce? 
  2. What are the impediments to success and how can they be overcome?
  3. What lessons should companies and their stakeholders draw from these best practices and how should they inform training/education initiatives?
  4. What does success for the disabled employee look like and how should this be measured? 

The members of the Research Working Group may add to this list during its meetings. 

Who should join?

Each company will send two executives to participate in the Research Working Group; specifically, a senior Human Resources or Diversity executive with responsibility for developing and implementing workforce strategies as well as a line executive who has been charged with implementing the strategies, such as a business unit manager. 

 This cross-functional composition of this group is key to uncovering unique insights into differences that may exist across functions in managerial (mis)perceptions about people with disabilities, the obstacles facing managers in the implementation of disability-management practices, the accommodation and inclusion of employees with disabilities.  The combination of different stakeholder perspectives will yield innovative and integrative solutions for ways to improve the effectiveness of affirmative disability practices within organizations.  We seek to stimulate discussion about the disconnect that is often observed between intended HR policies and their implementation in practice.

Meetings: First in-person meeting:  June 1 & 2, 2011 – New York City

Cost: The participation fee of $7500 total allows two executives from each member organization to attend three in person and two virtual meetings for the six month duration of the project.  This includes access to the detailed research results and reports. 

To join or for more information, contact Mary Wright, Program Director at +1 212 339 0285, or

Download the Application Form

About the Grant

Cornell University – School of Industrial and Labor Relations has received a grant from Department of Education to create new knowledge on employer practices in the employment of people with disabilities. To address the employment inequalities encountered by people with disabilities, Cornell University[1] will look broadly across America’s workplaces by collaborating with five employer member organizations representing the interests of large Fortune 1000 and small businesses,[2] and employers across industries.  The various organizations are charged with examining current employer practices in high growth, high demand and economically vital business sectors as well as both large and small businesses in a number of different regions.  This variety will enable us to discover differences in key business/economy sectors and identify issues for people with disabilities to access job opportunities in growth industries.[3] We will also examine the effect of the preconceptions and prior experiences of supervisors, HR professionals, top management, and employees with and without disabilities on workplace culture and the relationship between employer practices and employment outcomes for people with disabilities.

Through a series of 13 research and 14 training, dissemination and technical assistance projects, the project will: (a) create new knowledge of specific employer practices most strongly associated with desired employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities and the prevalence of these practices; (b) increase knowledge about how these practices relate to employer success in hiring, retention, and promotion of individuals with disabilities; and (c) increase incorporation of these findings into practice and policy by collaborating with employer groups to develop, evaluate, or implement strategies to promote utilization of positive practices identified.  The project brings together an impressive team of seasoned researchers and practitioners across a variety of disability, HR, compensation, economics, management interests, and representatives of national organizations representing large and small businesses and willing company partners.

The research findings of this project will serve to inform the development of demand side interventions to improve the employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.  Results will be disseminated to employer networks reaching employers of different sizes and sectors, HR professionals, supervisors, people with disabilities and their family members and representatives (disability advocacy organizations), RSA-funded Technical Assistance Centers (TACEs) serving state vocational rehabilitation agencies; policy makers; current and future researchers and rehabilitation service providers (graduate students); the media and the general public.


[1] The Cornell University team will be led by Cornell University’s Employment and Disability Institute, in collaboration with the Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies (CAHRS), Institute for Compensation Studies (ICS), Human Capital Development (HCD) Program, and the Survey Research Institute (SRI).

[2] Partner employer organizations include: The Conference Board (TCB), Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), and Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC).

[3] According to the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration, the current growth industries are: advanced manufacturing, aerospace, automotive, bio-technology, construction, energy, financial services, geospatial, health care, hospital, information technology, retail, and transportation (High Growth Job Training Initiative, U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, downloaded from, June 13, 2010).

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Contact us for more information.

2013 RWG on Measuring the Impact of Corporate Social Investments
"We have found great value in connecting with our peers and getting exposure to the industry's subject matter experts through this Working Group. The first meeting alone helped mold our team's 3 year vision for measurement at Target. Additionally, a peer in the group helped us think through how Target uses technology for data collection & reporting. The group's input and examples on shared value helped me craft our exploration of shared value for Target. Overall, we've been thrilled with what we've learned through this RWG."

Mark Muckerheide, Sr. Group Manager, Target Corporation