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Field Experiment on People with Physical Disabilities and Discrimination


Special Collaboration

Laure Sébrier, Research Project Coordinator
Disability, Employment, and Public Policies Initiative (DEPPI)

The article was first published in the AQICESH Bulletin – Spring 2018

The Disability, Employment, and Public Policies Initiative (DEPPI) project is a joint initiative of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). Its strength comes from a multidisciplinary approach with a team composed of 12 researchers from different fields: economics, sociology, rehabilitation, education and social work. Since 2015, team members have been working in their respective areas of research to gain a better understanding of employment integration, participation and retention of people with physical limitations. The goal is to establish public policy recommendations that reflect reality.

With this goal in mind, it was important to measure labor market discrimination toward people with physical disabilities. Therefore our field experiment used a testing method, where we responded to real job offers with fictitious applications to test employer response. From June 2016 to April 2017, we submitted applications to almost 1,500 jobs in the metropolitan area of Quebec City and Montréal. Half of applications disclosed the use of a wheelchair following an accident, while the other half did not. We targeted receptionist, secretarial, accounting clerk and computer programmer positions.

The type of positions selected was based on the fact that limitations had no bearing on productivity. Next, we measured callback rates and interview invitations according to the type of position and candidacy (disabled or not).

Our study indicated very significant discrimination toward people with physical limitations. The employers’ callback rate for a job interview was 31.5% for a neutral application and 14.5% for one disclosing a disability. When a candidate discloses their situation in a cover letter, their chances of getting a job interview is reduced by half.

To rule out facility accessibility issues as a discrimination factor, we visited nearly 600 companies and found that they did not influence callback rates. Other determining factors included in our study showed that neither the city (Québec VS Montreal), nor the size of the company, nor even mentioning the eligibility for subsidies reduced the gap between the two types of applications.

Discrimination is an important barrier that significantly limits the scope of certain public policies aimed at facilitating the integration and job retention of people with disabilities, because they don’t even get a job interview. We know that this kind of discrimination is certainly at the lower end of the spectrum; that without a doubt much larger levels exist for other types of disabilities, such as mental health.

Among upcoming projects, we would like to test using video resumes to see if they can reduce employer’s negative assumptions, and reduce discrimination toward people with physical limitations.

Given equal candidates, disclosing the use of a wheelchair reduces by half the chances of being called back for a job interview.

To learn more:

Physical Disability and Labor Market Discrimination: Evidence from a Field Experiment