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Disability Employment Gap Among Women and Girls with Disabilities9 min read

Disability Employment Gap Among Women and Girls with Disabilities

People with disabilities face challenges in the labor markets. There is a substantial gap between integrating people with disabilities into the labor force and their actual participation levels. Labor force disparities for people with disabilities also vary from one type of disability to another, resulting in some groups showing higher or lower participation rates than others.

From a gender perspective, men with disabilities are almost twice as likely to have jobs than women with disabilities. When women with disabilities work, they often experience unequal hiring and promotion standards, unequal access to training and retraining, unequal access to credit and other productive resources, unequal pay for equal work and occupational segregation, and rarely participate in economic decision-making.

According to the Bureau of Statistics Report in the U.S., the unemployment rate among women with disabilities is 9.4%, whereas it is 4% for those without disabilities. That means women with disabilities are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than are their non-disabled counterparts.

From a gender perspective, men with disabilities are almost twice as likely to have jobs than women with disabilities.

Only 35.7 percent of working-age women with disabilities are employed in the U.S., than 72.8 percent of working-age women without disabilities. With fully one-in-four American adults having a disability, just 37.6 percent of those working age are employed, despite polls showing that most of them want to work. That leads to approximately 22.9 percent of women without disabilities living in poverty compared to 14.5 percent of women with disabilities.

All human rights are universal and therefore unreservedly include women and men with disabilities. Every person is born equal and has the same rights to life and welfare, education, and work, living independently, and active participation in all aspects of society. Any direct or indirect discrimination against a disabled woman or man is a violation of her or his rights.

According to ILO, women with disabilities are at greater risk of poverty than men with disabilities (Mitra et al., 2011). Their poverty is linked to their minimal education and skills development opportunities. Approximately 785 million women and men with disabilities are working age, but most do not work. When they do work, they earn less than people without disabilities, but further gender disparities exist. Women with disabilities earn less than men with disabilities.

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Women with disabilities are more vulnerable to discrimination, (a) because they are women and (b) because they have a disability. Many of them are further discriminated against because they are poor. This double or triple discrimination experienced by women with disabilities is often ignored or unnoticed because persons with disabilities are sometimes treated as genderless human beings. It is also primarily neglected because little information is available on its extent or impact.

Increasing employment opportunities is the right thing to do and is vital in addressing the skills gaps and shortages currently experienced by many business sectors.

Employment Barriers for Women and Girls with Disabilities

People with disabilities of all backgrounds and genders deserve the opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence, just like anyone else.

Girls and women of all ages with any form of disability are generally among the more vulnerable and marginalized of society.

Disability represents a barrier, for both women and men, in accessing the labor market. However, women with disabilities experience more significant difficulties than their male counterparts.

In far too many countries, women with disabilities are leaving the workforce, experiencing discrimination, and being denied the opportunity to earn an income.

Despite the relative importance of the gender and disability barriers, which differ from one country to another, they are underrepresented in the labor market and access to full citizenship rights.

The extent of participation by women with disabilities in the labor market is closely related to the definitions, criteria, and incentives provided by welfare regimes and social and cultural barriers.

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They also experience more physical barriers in nature, at home, in the community, and the workplace. These serve to discourage them from participating in the labor force to their full potential. The loss of disability-related benefits when transitioning to paid work is another massive disincentive to seeking employment. Sometimes it is just not worthwhile when the dollar value of the loss of services is more significant than earned income.

Even when women with disabilities work, they are more likely than men to be confronted with disadvantage, exclusion, and discrimination. Women and the disabled often experience unequal hiring and promotion conditions, unequal access to training and retraining, unequal pay for equal work, and occupational segregation. Even when they have access to training and complete it, they are more likely to remain unemployed or work part-time jobs.

Women with disabilities are more likely to be poor than are men with disabilities or men and women without disabilities. However, when allowed to participate in the labor force, the gap between them narrows. This suggests that while employment alone will not put women with disabilities on the same economic level as men with disabilities or those without disabilities, it goes a long way towards improving their living standards and independence.

Employment is a woman’s best defense against poverty. It also provides a sense of value, status, and purpose to integrate and accept and extend social networks.

Therefore, efforts to raise the labor market participation of women with disabilities need to take the context of each welfare regime and social approaches to disability into account.

The Right of Women and Girls with Disabilities to Work

In most States, national legislation and policies on disability and employment do not adopt an intersectional approach in addressing women and disability.

Gradual changes in legislation and policymaking have occurred primarily in the last decade, mainly driven by the entry into force of the 2006 U.N. Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), which recognizes the discrimination based on gender and disability endured by women (Article. 6). The convention adopts a human rights perspective: people are disabled by society and its barriers, not just by their impairments.

Therefore, there is a need to adopt active recommendations to develop affirmative actions that address disabled women and a policy framework for women with disabilities in the labor market.

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There is also a need to design a framework to develop good practices to integrate women with disabilities in the labor market and protect them against poverty, violence, and social exclusion.

Several different types of measures and practices can be identified, including the following:

  • Measures targeted to companies that support workplace adaptation and the maintenance of the job, through the creation of a disability manager position in companies, training and coaching services, workplace flexibility measures (e.g., teleworking, smart working, job sharing, working time flexibility, and/or part-time, etc.) to address the specific needs of workers with disabilities.
  • Vocational guidance and empowerment measures targeted to women with disabilities.
  • Traineeship or employment support measures, such as the ICTs and ICT accessibility.
  • Measures to support NGOs and social cooperatives providing remote jobs and/or on-the-job training specifically addressing women with disabilities.
  • Awareness-raising measures supporting the employment and empowerment of women with disabilities and affirms social responsibility.
  • Action Plans supporting the mainstreaming of disability and adopting a dual strategy to face the double discrimination experienced by women with disabilities, with positive actions and transversal measures in the various spheres of activity in the plan.

Read more examples and good practices “Discrimination and Access to Employment for Female Workers with Disabilities.”

Narrow the Disability employment Gap

Narrowing the employment gap for people with disabilities is in a firms’ interest.

If we intend to narrow the gap significantly, we need to look more closely at current practices.

Disability equality, as with all equality issues, is a matter of social justice; hence, all progressive, socially responsible employers should seek to promote.

Business leaders should be interested in addressing these issues. The first reason is a straightforward moral argument.

A new report of the U.K. (VODG) professional network calls for more practical solutions to close the disability employment gap.

The report’s recommendations include clarifying whether the work program includes options like supported internships and increased specific support for disabled workers, including specialist job advisors and in-work job coaches. They also make supported employment a locally delivered national priority, focusing on specialized recruitment and retention, embracing a disability-friendly approach, and creating inclusive workplaces. Managers can play a critical role in creating an inclusive working environment.

All education and learning opportunities must be inclusive and accessible. Creating more accessible and inclusive learning opportunities will help open more employment opportunities to people with disabilities.

At present, accessible and inclusive learning provision is seen as a good practice rather than a requirement.

Governments should regulate learning and education opportunities and learning standards to ensure they do not discriminate against people with disabilities and should have equal access to employment and fair pay.

Narrowing the disability employment gap must be considered part of a broader cultural shift.

There is a clear need for an intersectional approach to inclusion and accessibility to ensure workplaces are open and welcoming to people of all backgrounds and experiences.

We are moving in the right direction. And movements that spotlight inequality and under-representation have been louder and more visible in recent times – you only have to think of campaigns around Black Lives Matter and the Gender Pay Gap.

So, while government initiatives, businesses, and campaign groups are stepping up to shift the dial on the disability employment gap, we as individuals can make sure we are making the most of all the information and resources at our disposal.

Final Words

Many social and institutional barriers are likely to restrict women and girls’ career options with disabilities. They face a distinct intersectional or dual labor market disadvantage based on their sex and disability. They are still less likely to access employment and receive equal pay.

We appeal to governments to improve the lives of people with disabilities and work to reduce the disability employment gap and put outlines relevant proposals about combatting prejudices and misunderstandings, ensuring equal access to labor market opportunities, preventing people with disabilities from falling out of work, and supporting them to progress in the workplace through creating an inclusive, accessible and enabling employment environment to ensure women with disabilities enjoy equal rights and opportunities.

Useful Links and Resources

About the Authors

Lamondré Torohn

LaMondre Pough

Chief Sustainability Officer of Ruh Global IMPACT

passionate speaker, seasoned trainer, and enthusiastic content creator, LaMondre Pough is the Chief Sustainability Officer for Ruh Global IMPACT, host of the podcast 5P with LaMondre (, and the creator of the video series Moment of Impact. His ability to empower his audiences to embrace diversity and create environments where people truly belong has helped him become a renowned speaker, trainer, and content creator.

Using colorful stories and stirring facts, LaMondre touches the heart of his audience and inspires waves of change. Each message, training, or video is a dynamic and unique experience

Nabil Eid

Nabil Eid

Director of Global ICT Accessibility and Inclusion, Ruh Global IMPACT 

His role as the CIO is to help set and lead the ICT accessibility strategy for Ruh Global IMPACT. Nabil has held several positions and worked with numerous NGOs, civil society networks, UN agencies, governments, private sector, and grassroots organizations to successfully create positive change at global, regional, and national levels.

With 20+ years of experience in disability inclusion strategies and ICT4D marginalized communities. Providing counseling, research, evaluation & monitoring, and ICT accessibility solutions and assistive technology services. Author of 8 books about disability inclusion and ICT accessibility

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