Cognitive Disabilities: A Significant, Yet Unaddressed Challenge for Competitive Integration in the Workplace

A photo of Rob Guttenberg who has a cognitive disability.

By Guest Blogger Madelaine Sayko, President and Co-Founder, Cognitive Compass, LLC 

The Statistics on Cognitive Disabilities and Employment 

Individuals with cognitive disabilities are one of the largest categories of people with disabilities, yet this demographic exhibits some of the highest unemployment and poverty rates. Only about 11 percent of people with cognitive disabilities are working full time, and 33 percent are living in poverty, which represents the highest poverty rate of any disability subgroup. Among working-age individuals with disabilities, people with cognitive disabilities have the largest percentage of individuals actively seeking work. Of those who are employed, they are the lowest wage earners of any disability group1. Such statistics speak clearly to how challenging it is for individuals with cognitive disabilities to find sustainable and meaningful employment and, equally, how much they want to.

Cornell University’s 2012 Disability Status Report identified the prevalence of cognitive disabilities among working-age adults at 4.9 percent of the United States population (i.e., more than 14 million people). According to the Coleman Institute of Cognitive Disabilities, there are more than 28.5 million people living with cognitive disabilities in the United States alone. Even this statistic may not tell the whole story, as some cognitive disabilities may be underreported or associated primarily with other conditions. Attempts at improved data collection have shown that cognitive challenges are likely more prevalent than previously measured. For example, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified 2.5 million people with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in 2010, a Mount Sinai Medical Center study, designed to specifically identify and include those with mild TBI, indicated that there may be as many as 30 million individuals nationally. TBI is one type of a cognitive disability.

Defining Cognitive Disability

One of the challenges in understanding the full scope and impact of cognitive disabilities is finding a definition. The term is often poorly understood and sometimes used interchangeably with developmental or intellectual disability; while there are overlaps, they are not necessarily the same. According to the Employment Disability Institute at Cornell University, a cognitive disability is “a physical, mental or emotional condition which causes a person to have serious difficulty in concentrating, remembering or making decisions.” Comparatively, the Coleman Institute on Cognitive Disabilities uses the following definition: “a substantial limitation in one’s capacity to think, including conceptualizing, planning and sequencing of thoughts and actions, remembering, interpreting subtle social cues and understanding numbers and symbols.”

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Charting a Pathway to a Technology-Accessible Workplace

A photo of U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy Assistant Secretary Kathleen Martinez

By Guest Blogger Kathy Martinez, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy

Someone recently asked me to name the one thing I couldn’t live without at work. My answer? Technology. I couldn’t do my job – or live my life – as effectively as I do now without information and communication technology (ICT).

Considering that I’m blind, this answer is sometimes met with surprise. Some people don’t realize that individuals with disabilities also rely on technology – as long as it’s accessible – to perform daily tasks. I certainly do. I use a screen reader to relay the information on my computer screen, a Braille note-taking device and a smartphone with built-in accessibility features. To say that I’d be lost without these innovations is an understatement.

Technology is paramount for all of us – whether we have disability or not – and this is particularly true in the workplace. From computers to mobile devices to email platforms and other Web-based applications, ICT is a central driver of productivity. It streamlines operations, boosts efficiency and forges instantaneous connections. It empowers us in transformative ways. And this phenomenon is not limited to office settings. Whether you work in an office, a warehouse or a retail establishment, chances are technology is part of the job.

But imagine what it would be like if you couldn’t access or navigate all that technology. It’s an unfortunate reality experienced by many people with disabilities who are faced with workplace technologies that are neither accessible to them nor compatible with assistive technology devices. And that’s unfortunate—not only for workers and jobseekers with disabilities, but also for employers.

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A Seasonal Job – Should I Take It?

A photo of Paula Reuben Vieillet, President and Founder of Employment Options, Inc.

By Guest Blogger Paula Reuben Vieillet, President and Founder of Employment Options Inc.

Many jobseekers wonder if they should accept a seasonal position. For one thing, it seems like a lot of information to learn for only a few weeks or months of work. Some job seekers feel that working at a seasonal position will not leave them a lot of time to look for a better job. Nonetheless, I recommend seasonal employment for many reasons.


It is a good idea to take a seasonal work-at-home or community position if you are having trouble getting a permanent position. Employers are usually more lenient about candidates’ work history during seasonal hiring and will often accept people with little directly related work experience if they have the aptitude and desire to do the job.


It is also a good way to try a new career or re-enter the workplace again. With a seasonal position, you can ‘test the waters’ to find out whether you like working in a particular field. There are many jobs in work-at-home, too, so if you have been thinking about home-based work, this would be an ideal time to try it. Moreover, seasonal jobs help you find out if you have the physical, intellectual and emotional ability to sustain work. And get paid while you do it!

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Helping Disabled Veterans to Start Small Businesses

An image of an American flag with the shadow of a military veteran saluting.

By Guest Blogger Cecelia Taylor, U.S. Small Business Administration, Office of Communications and Public Liaison

If you are a veteran or service-disabled veteran, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has resources to help you start and grow your small business. From creating a business plan to finding your first customer, we’re here to help you succeed.

SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development (OVBD) exists to serve the veteran-owned small business community. Veterans are a particular focus for SBA because veteran-owned small businesses account for a large percentage of small businesses.

Did you know?

  • An estimated 8.3 percent of veteran business owners have service-related disabilities.
  • Veterans are at least 45 percent more likely than those with no military experience to be entrepreneurs.
  • U.S. military veterans own 2.4 million businesses (or nearly 10 percent of all businesses nationwide).
  • Veteran-owned businesses generated $1.2 trillion in receipts (i.e., four percent of all businesses’ receipts nationwide) and employ nearly 5.8 million people.

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WIOA Helps Individuals with Disabilities Pursue and Obtain Well-Paying Employment Opportunities

Headshot of Amy Scherer, staff attorney for the National Disability Rights Network.

By Guest Blogger Amy Scherer, Staff Attorney, National Disability Rights Network

There have been several important advancements that have enhanced the lives of people with a variety of disabilities and facilitated their further inclusion into society; including greater availability of wheelchair accessible housing, acceptance of service animals in public places and use of assistive technology allowing more independent access to public transportation.

In spite of this, one central area where people with disabilities continue to be left out in the cold involves employment. Unfortunately, the philosophy that some people are simply “too disabled” to be employed is still commonly believed. According to the most recent data available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 13.4 percent of people with disabilities are currently unemployed. The impact of this number is even more striking when compared to the 7.9 percent unemployment rate of people without disabilities. Similarly, based on 2013 data, only 20.3 percent of people with disabilities participate in the labor force as opposed to 68.9 percent of people without disabilities – a stunning 48.6 percent gap. This disparity is unacceptable.

Further complicating the situation is a particular section of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) – known as 14(c) – that actually makes it legal to pay people with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage. In addition to receiving lower pay rates, people with disabilities are often placed in segregated environments where, except for aids or supervisors, they only interact with other people with disabilities.

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