Navigating Barriers at Work: Exploring the Perceptions of Employees with Disabilities

Kimberly G. Phillips, University of New Hampshire, Durham


To maintain successful employment, people with disabilities must often navigate attitudinal barriers that result in bias, conflict, and discriminatory treatment on the part of their supervisors and coworkers. Two studies were designed to investigate the idea that employees’ perceptions of and response to these types of barriers depend, in part, on their beliefs about their own self-competence, ability to cope with problems, and estimations of their relationships with others, particularly supervisors, in the workplace. Two models were developed and tested to assess how employees’ perceived potential at work, as measured by both self-judgment and lifespace data, as well as an ability-based measure of personal intelligence, related to their experience of attitudinal barriers. Survey respondents were 1,631 adults aged 18 to 64 who were currently or recently employed and who experienced one or more disabilities or disabling health conditions. Results showed that occupational self-efficacy, coping style, personal intelligence, and perceptions of person-focused and task-focused supervisor support were all useful in understanding employees’ with disabilities perceived potential at work and its associations with attitudinal barriers, decisions whether or not to disclose disability at work, and subjective work success. Conclusions address issues related to measurement and application to workplace policy and intervention.