Older male living with an invisible disability sitting across from a younger male in a wheelchair, interacting in an inside environment

Removing job barriers

Barriers to employment are barriers to a healthy life. When you can’t get a job, you can’t support yourself or your family. Nutritious food, stable housing and health care are harder to come by. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to be self-sufficient and to participate fully in the world around you. It’s easy to become isolated and depressed.

For the one in four Oregon adults who live with a disability, the biggest barriers to meaningful, good-paying work are not their own limitations. Their greatest obstacles are built into the world around them.

For people with disabilities

How place matters to our health

  • Social conditions

    Until the 1960s, it was common for people with disabilities to be segregated away into institutions. Discrimination lingers on in employer assumptions that they can’t handle challenging jobs.

    Education, income,
    discrimination and structural
    racism are among the social conditions that can limit or
    expand a person’s ability to live a healthy life.

    Three people standing on boxes trying to grab apples from a tree. First person is the tallest with the shortest box. Second person is at middle length with the middle length box. Third person is at the shortest length with the highest box. All three people are able to grab apples from the tree.
  • Physical settings

    When physical barriers, like a broken elevator or missing wheelchair ramp, prevents a person from interviewing for a job, it’s the place—not their disability—that holds them back.

    The locations where we live,
    work, learn, play or age, such as
    our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, parks,
    senior centers and public spaces, help determine how healthy we
    can be.

    A neighborhood showing a house next to an apartment building next to an office building.
  • People power

    The Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990, but much work remains to educate employers, reduce stigma and make the places where we work accessible to everyone.

    Governments, communities and voters can change policies and environments in ways that make
    it easier or harder to make healthy choices.

    A group of diverse people speaking up at a forum
  • Industry practices

    Carving out tasks from existing jobs to create new part-time positions (“job carving”) helps companies and people with disabilities, who may lose public benefits if their income exceeds certain limits.

    Companies sell things—they always have. But today, kids are surrounded by marketing that pushes harmful products, while low-income adults and communities of color are specifically targeted.

    An outdoor billboard showing a sugary drink advertisement for


  • Open Video Modal


    One in four adult Oregonians lives with a disability. Adults with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed as those without. This makes it harder for them to live healthy lives.

    Dr. Gloria Krahn:

    Jobs are important for all of us. They give us not only the salary, but we’re certainly grateful for that, but they give us our identity, I think, to a large extent. They give us purpose in life. And I think that is something we rob people of when we keep them from getting a job and getting the kind of job that they would want and that they would be able to fulfill.

    Speaker 3:

    The beauty of the job is not just the work, but it’s the opportunity to socialize, and to make friends, and to network, and all the other good stuff and bad stuff that goes along with jobs. So if people are being denied that opportunity because of a physical barrier, that’s a big struggle.

    Dr. Gloria Krahn:

    Reading between the lines on some of the research, I think it’s very clear that there are relationships between people being healthy and people with disabilities and people having jobs. Working within your capacities is probably very healthy for all of us. We know that there are many people who are getting great educations who have disabilities, who would be qualified for positions. And yet, there’s still a bit of a lag it seems in uptake by employers for hiring people with disabilities.

    Speaker 3:

    There’s this assumption that somebody with a disability is going to need an accommodation to do the essential functions of their job. And that assumption is a gigantic, and I think the biggest barrier for people with disabilities to gain employment.

    Dr. Gloria Krahn:

    Stigma is a powerful word. And it really means that I am making some assessment about you and about what you can or cannot do based on very little knowledge about you, and it’s coming much more from me. And it may go right along with, “If I know you’ve got a disability, I don’t want to interview you for a job.”

    Speaker 3:

    Today, even today, before we were recording this, people have gone out of their way to not look at me. Not talking to me either, but they’re not even looking at me. All right. Now, I’m not expecting people to walk by and stare, but just to look at it and acknowledge rather than see what’s so interesting on the ground that they must stare at that when they walk right by me. Technically, the building I work in is not accessible. And that there’s a very steep ramp to the front door. The pitch of the sidewalk that leads to that ramp or sidewalk is beyond compliance. So it’s a building that I can navigate, because I’ve been in a wheelchair or used a wheelchair for so long and I’m relatively strong and good at pushing my wheelchair. I can navigate that, but I generally go the easy way to get in the building, which is the back way, which is still not technically accessible, but it’s flat.


    Dr. Gloria Krahn:

    What do know is that a large percentage of people who have a disability, a significant disability live in poverty. And that puts them at disadvantage in so many ways. If I’m a person who has a mobility limitation, maybe along with visual limitation, and I have difficulty shopping for my own food, preparing my own food, then I’m more likely to be eating fast food. I’m more likely to be eating cheaper food. That, along with my not having a chance to get out and get regular physical activity, those two things are probably the things that put you at greatest risk for subsequently developing diabetes.

    Speaker 3:

    I like to try and encourage employers to think about the known as opposed to the unknown. And the known is that for a person with a disability, they likely have overcome some barrier or some struggle. You don’t know what it is and you don’t need to know what it is, but you know that they’re here. And that could be considered a good thing. I think it should be extra points. And all the fear, all the stigma around accommodation is misplaced. So most people with disabilities don’t need accommodations. Most accommodations don’t cost money. The accommodations that do cost money cost on average about $500. Well, job carving is carving out a particular set of duties in one job and then taking that particular set of duties to make another job. And generally, the duties are every bit as important in the second job as they are in the first job, it’s just maybe they weren’t getting done, or maybe they match up with another person’s particular skillset in a way that allows that person to gain employment and to have a job.

    Speaker 3:

    So we started that program three or four years ago now at OHSU. And it’s been an opportunity to employ some people at OHSU who might not have had opportunities to work at OHSU otherwise. And what that’s done is bring us a new type of diversity, to further diversify the campus, and to really to give an opportunity for people to flourish, to do cool things, to meet cool people, and to be part of the OHSU enterprise.

    Dr. Gloria Krahn:

    One of the things I’ve learned over what has been a long career is the incredible richness that is there for us as a society and as employers when we include people with disabilities. I would recommend keep your eye focused on the abilities of that person, set the disability aside for now, recognize that it might be an issue for you, get more information if you need to, ask that person what they will need in order to be successful, but don’t let that be the thing that stops you. Pursue that, because there are so many really well-qualified people who will do an amazing job, have an amazing career for you and your company if you give them that opportunity.


    Without a job, people can’t get the housing, healthcare, and nutritious food that we all need to live a healthy life. What is your community doing to increase opportunities and remove barriers for people with disabilities? OHSU is actively working to address access barriers on its Marquam Hill Campus, including hilly terrain and architectural design. The institution is committed to providing acceptable accommodations for its patients, employees, learners and visitors.


    Everyone benefits from hiring people with disabilities

    Physical obstacles and employer attitudes block many adults with disabilities from the world of work. Ian Jaquiss of Oregon Health and Science University and Dr. Gloria Krahn of Oregon State University explain how jobs matter to health for all of us. They correct false assumptions and describe the many benefits to employers who hire people with disabilities.

  • Open Video Modal


    Half my job is instructor and I lead events and I have them help me with stuff. Actually, they tell me what to do, actually. Right? Right, Emma?


    I work about 19 to 20 hours a week here and then the other stuff is about advocacy and stuff. That’s about it. That’s kind of me in a nutshell.

    Background voice:

    All right.


    Having a job helps you emotionally and makes you feel good and confident in yourself and having a job helps you interact with people, that’s social. It gives you a sense of identity. Gives you a pride, when you get up in the morning, gives you some motivation to get out of your house. I’m in my happy place. It’s just an overall good thing for your health, in so many different ways.


    My dream job is to a consultant to tell business what they need to do to make every business accessible.


    There’s two kinds of barriers. There are physical barriers, attitudinal barriers and when we come together, they make it really challenging for people with disabilities to navigate through the job system and stuff, and to even find jobs.


    I can’t wait to hear what you have to say.


    My biggest barrier is communication because most people can’t understand me. Sometimes when people don’t understand, I try to type it and sometimes people would just walk away or think I am not as smart because they can’t understand me. It is hard sometimes.


    A lot of times I’ll be at my front desk at work and I’ll be with a coworker that’s equally trained. People prefer to go with my coworker instead of me and that’s kind of disconcerting for me. It’s annoying because I’m at the same skill level that my coworker is, but they would rather talk to them.


    People need to realize that we can do pretty much anything they can do. We just might need some accommodation.




    Yeah, totally. Yeah. True that. Well, you know I’m old. I have gray hair. It was challenging growing up and stuff because there were these overwhelming stereotypes and it was kind of challenging to move myself through that labyrinth and stuff.


    But you are the lucky man, because like I had ADA, but you have the Rehab Act and you have IDEA and stuff. There’s all these protections and stuff for you now and stuff. You’re kind of like enjoying the fruit of the labor what we did before in the seventies and eighties and stuff.


    I attended Oregon State University. I studied mechanical engineering. Testing was hard for me. The first term I was taking too many credits. I had a hard time with getting all the work done. The way they had e-books took a long time to get. Sometimes there were problems with them. Technology can be hard sometimes.


    I am planning to go to Linn-Benton Community College in the fall. Some people with disabilities are smart, so don’t talk to someone with a disability like they don’t know much before you get to know them.


    You can do anything. I’ve said before and stuff so just keep the course and know what your weaknesses are and that’s the key thing.


    You can make a change for those who come after you and stuff. If you just keep that focus and keep working on what you want to do and stuff.


    What is your community doing to increase opportunities and remove barriers for people with disabilities?

    Overcoming job barriers for people with disabilities

    Thirty years after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990), Joe Basey and Xavier Chenault continue to face hurdles that people without disabilities don’t. Joe, a recreation instructor for the city of Eugene, and Xavier, a college student from Corvallis, share how they’re overcoming barriers to employment and to leading full, healthy lives.

  • Open Video Modal


    My birth was a surprise to everyone at the hospital. When I came out, I wasn’t breathing. I feel so lucky to be alive. Xavier Chenault. Corvallis, Oregon. Life and Adventures with Cerebral Palsy.

    Xavier Chenault:

    I have cerebral palsy because I wasn’t breathing when I was born. It mostly affects my muscles. My speech is affected because of my muscles. I can’t walk and it takes me longer to get stuff done. Being out in nature is impossible because it is freeing and I can stay active.

    Background voice:

    So close. Do you want to change that to important?

    Xavier Chenault:

    Being out in nature is important because it is freeing and I can stay active. The one thing I would change is to make every trail accessible.


    Most Oregon state parks lack accessible features like bathrooms, paved trails, and water access. When parks and trails aren’t accessible, people with disabilities are blocked from experiencing the physical and mental health benefits of getting outside.

    Xavier Chenault:

    I have been skiing since 2013. I have gotten so good that I can use fixed outriggers which go on each side of the ski and the instructor only holds on by two ropes. I use the ski called a bi-ski. It looks like a sled on two skis. I have a trained instructor that holds on to back of the ski and I have at least one volunteer to make sure the area is clear and it takes two people to get me on and off the lift. When I am skiing, I feel fun and freeing.


    I have been doing all different kinds of sports and activities in my life. I’m so lucky to live in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. I am not afraid to do anything. Xavier Chenault. Life and Adventures with Cerebral Palsy.

    Outdoor adventures with cerebral palsy

    Like many Oregonians, Xavier Chenault loves to ski on Mt. Hood and explore new trails in the outdoors. He’s also among the 25% of Oregon adults who live with a disability. Xavier, who lives in Corvallis, wants people to understand that having cerebral palsy doesn’t stop him from being active and adventurous. Don’t assume anything before you get to know him.

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  • Living with disabilities

    Welcome back to West Livaudais, who was our first guest for the Place Matters Oregon blog. West is the executive director for Oregon Spinal Cord Injury Connection. Joining us is Erin Taylor, program coordinator for United Spinal Association. PMO: West, thank you so much for being eager to return as a guest for our Place…

    Read the full story
  • A personal story about making Oregon more inclusive

    PMO: First of all, thank you so much for being our first guest for the Place Matters Oregon (PMO) blog. Will you tell us a bit about your background and your work? West: Before I started at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), I worked in Guatemala as the maternal and child health program coordinator…

    Read the full story
    West with family

Time to get involved

Whether you have one minute or a full day, each of us can make the places where we work healthier and accessible to more Oregonians.

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Personal stories show how our workplaces affect our health. Share the story of two Oregonians with disabilities who are overcoming barriers to employment.

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Share the facts

Statistics prove how place matters to the health of our communities. Download and share web-friendly facts about disabilities, work and health.

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Get to know a partner

Dozens of organizations are working to make better places and better lives for people with disabilities, including the Oregon Office on Disability and Health.

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Key factors shape health in all communities but aren’t easy to see. These PowerPoint slides reveal the drivers of health that affect people with disabilities at work.

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