Submissions List TBI Interagency Conference

Reaching Hard- to- Reach Gatekeepers to Disability Inclusiveness: A Just-in-Time Approach

  • Rudstam, Hannah


Knowledge Translation of disability and rehabilitation research to practice, consumers, and policy


Managers/supervisors are key gatekeepers of disability inclusiveness in the workplace, making decisions about hiring, accommodation, employee development, performance and termination. Yet, they are difficult to reach using traditional in-person or online training approaches. We report on a new approach to bring about disability inclusive workplaces by reaching these face-to-face leaders. 



Despite two decades of ADA protections and despite significant program efforts, the economic and employment lives of people with disabilities have largely not improved since 1990 (Erickson, Lee & vonSchrader, 2012).   Though the story behind these disappointing statistics is complex (Kruse & Schur, 2003; Houtenville, et al., 2009; McMahon, et. al., 2008), it is clear that employer beliefs and practices have played a key role (Bruyere, 2000; Schur, Kruse & Blanck, 2005; Baldwin & Johnson, 2006; Nishii & Bruyere, 2009).   Significant effort has been devoted to creating and disseminating information for employers on various aspects of employing people with disabilities. 

While information dissemination will always be needed, we must pose an uncomfortable question:  Why have so many efforts produced so little change? A knowing—doing gap has limited the power of interventions aiming to enhance disability inclusiveness in the workplace.  Efforts based on disseminating information alone may not be enough.  Employers for the most part do have a working knowledge of the employment provisions of the ADA (Schur, Kruse & Blanck, 2005; National Organization on Disability, 2010).  Yet, this knowledge is largely not being translated into organizational practices that drive sustainable disability inclusiveness (Nisshi & Bruyere, 2009; Rudstam & Gower, 2010).  Whereas disseminating information is relatively straightforward, changing organizational cultures, beliefs and practices is difficult. 

We report on a pilot of a new approach for reaching employers to enhance disability inclusiveness in the workplace.  This approach attempts to change organizational culture and practice:  1. By engaging “natural” disability communities within organizations, and 2.  By providing these disability communities with a just-in-time tool designed to impact hard-to-reach key gatekeepers of disability inclusiveness in the workplace:  Mid-level managers and supervisors.

Managers and supervisors are the main arbiters of diversity and disability inclusiveness in the workplace.  These face-to-face leaders are key gatekeepers in decisions about hiring, coaching, performance appraisal, promotions and employee development.  Yet, there are no disability inclusiveness initiatives made specifically for them—made to fit their roles, their challenges and their unique contributions to the inclusion effort.  The “world” of the manager/supervisor has changed dramatically over the past two decades.  Managers today tend to have more direct reports, must often lead remotely, are confronted by rapidly changing, complex organizational structures, and often face increasing productivity expectations along with shrinking budgets (Human Capital Institute/DDI, 2010; Leavitt, 2004; Osterman, 2008).  Also, there is significant “churn” today in the manager role, both within and outside the company (Osterman, 2008).  For these reasons, traditional training, even when it is provided online, may not be the best way to reach these key players.  What is needed is an initiative that makes sense and is useable in the world of a manager--what is needed is a “just-in-time” (JIT) approach.

During this session, we will discuss the main ideas that informed our approach, review the research on the key role of mid-level managers in disability inclusiveness, and summarize the findings of a pilot study using mixed methods to assess the impact of the program.