Disabled Americans are "a great untapped resource" whose participation in the work force should be supported by affirmative action, a majority of Americans believe.
The Louis Harris and Associates polling group reached that conclusion after conducting in a survey for the National Organization on Disability (NOD). The organization said it was the first poll ever of its kind.
Responses to the series of questions on attitudes about the disabled showed that Americans understand the challenges disabled people face in finding work, supporting themselves financially and leading active social lives.
And while the public is divided over the issue of affirmative action for minorities, Americans recognize that "by their very condition disabled people face many more challenges than the rest of the population and therefore steps ought to be taken to give them additional assistance . . . namely affirmative action," the Harris report concludes.
According to the poll, 78 percent of the public see the disabled as having underused potential to work and produce, compared with 11 percent who see them more as a burden on taxpayers.
And 82 percent think greater employment of the disabled would be "a boost to the nation."
Eighty-one percent favor affirmative action programs similar to those for women and minorities; 14 percent oppose them.
"I was surprised that the support of the public was as overwhelmingly positive as it was in its desire to give the disabled a chance to come into the mainstream," says Alan Reich, president of NOD.
The poll found that better educated and younger Americans know the most about the disabled and are the most supportive of efforts to boost their participation in society.
"They are the strongest potential allies of the disability movement among the public," Louis Harris told reporters recently.
According to the United States attorney general, 58 percent of all disabled working-age men and 80 percent of all disabled working-age women were not employed at the beginning of 1990. Fifty-nine percent of the public perceive discrimination on the part of employers against the disabled; 52 percent of the disabled believed there was such discrimination. But discrimination has declined over the last 10 years, both groups say.