Psychology Research Informs Equitable Compensation for Job Seekers with Disabilities

, , ,


In the article “Everything Is Negotiable, but Not for Everyone: The Role of Disability in Compensation” by Mary Eve P. Speach, Katie L. Badura, and Terry C. Blum, the authors explain their research on the disparities in compensation and negotiation behaviors between job candidates with disabilities and those without. The research, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, highlights how stereotypes and perceived discrimination affect the negotiation outcomes for individuals with disabilities, often resulting in lower negotiated salaries. The researchers found that while initial salary offers do not differ significantly, individuals with disabilities tend to negotiate lower final salaries, especially when they perceive higher discrimination. Their findings raise important questions about how both employers and job seekers with disabilities can work towards more equitable compensation practices. By understanding these dynamics and taking proactive steps, both employers and job seekers can contribute to a more equitable and inclusive job market. This article discusses the research results and provides actionable insights for overcoming these barriers.

Summary of Research Questions and Findings

Speach et al, (2023) examined three research questions related to the compensation stage of the hiring process for individuals with disabilities.

Research Question 1: Do job applicants with a disability receive a different initial salary offering than those without a disability?

Findings: Study 1 demonstrated that having a disability does not negatively influence initial starting salary offers. Participants in the control group and those with various disabilities (general disability, hearing impairment, autism, and wheelchair use) received similar initial salary offers, indicating no significant differences across these groups​​.

Research Question 2: Do job candidates with disabilities negotiate lower final salaries than those without disabilities?

Findings: Study 2 revealed that individuals with disabilities tend to negotiate lower final salaries compared to those without disabilities. Additionally, higher perceptions of disability discrimination were associated with even lower negotiated salaries for individuals with disabilities​​.

Research Question 3: How do hiring managers’ expectations and biases affect the negotiation outcomes for job candidates with disabilities?

Findings: Study 3 focused on the perspectives of hiring managers and found that managers expected individuals with disabilities to negotiate less than those without disabilities. This expectation contributed to lower final salary offers for candidates with general disabilities, hearing impairments, and autism. However, no significant differences were found for wheelchair users.

Implications for Employers Committed to Equitable Hiring

Employers committed to equitable hiring must recognize and address the biases that influence compensation decisions. Ensuring fair and equitable salary negotiations for individuals with disabilities is not only a matter of compliance but also of fostering an inclusive workplace culture. The researchers emphasize that employers can take proactive measures to train hiring managers, revise compensation policies, and create an environment where equity is a core value. They suggest:

Steps for Employers

  1. Revise Company Materials: Update hiring and compensation materials to emphasize the importance of equity and inclusion for people with disabilities.
  2. Training Programs: Train hiring managers on the impact of biases and the importance of equitable compensation practices.
  3. Incentivize Fair Hiring: Encourage hiring managers to prioritize fair salary negotiations through incentives and rewards.
  4. Policy Analysis: Conduct regular policy analyses to identify and address any biases in compensation processes.
  5. Survey Employees: Gather feedback from employees with disabilities to identify areas for improvement and implement necessary changes.
  6. Diversity Training: Offer continuous diversity and inclusion training to ensure all employees understand and support equitable hiring practices.

Implications for Job Seekers with Disabilities

Job seekers with disabilities often face significant barriers during salary negotiations. The stereotypes and perceived discrimination contribute to lower starting salaries and may hinder their ability to negotiate effectively. This results in a long-term economic disparity as the gap in earnings grows over their careers. Job candidates with disabilities may benefit from increasing their negotiation frequency and developing strategies to address and counteract bias during the hiring process. It is important to stress that the research results indicate that when individuals with disabilities do negotiate on salary, there is a benefit. This post goes beyond the study itself to suggest the following for job seekers:

Possible Steps for Job Seekers with Disabilities

  1. Increase Negotiation Frequency: Engage in salary negotiations more frequently to build confidence and improve outcomes.
  2. Prepare Thoroughly: Research industry standards and gather data to support salary requests during negotiations.
  3. Highlight Skills and Achievements: Focus on personal skills, qualifications, and achievements to counteract stereotypes.
  4. Seek Support: Utilize support networks, such as career coaches or mentors, to navigate the negotiation process.
  5. Know Your Rights: Be aware of legal protections and rights concerning employment and compensation for individuals with disabilities.
  6. Address Biases Directly: Develop strategies to address and counteract any biases or discriminatory behaviors encountered during negotiations.
  7. Assertiveness Training: Consider participating in assertiveness training programs to enhance communication skills and boost confidence during negotiations.
  8. Understand Personal Discomfort: Recognize and address any discomfort or self-doubt related to negotiation. Understanding these feelings can help in developing strategies to overcome them and assert one’s value effectively.


The findings from this three part study and previous research reveal a complex picture of how disability status influences salary negotiations. While initial salary offers may not be affected, the negotiation process itself is fraught with disparities. Job candidates with disabilities not only negotiate lower final salaries but are also influenced by their own perceptions of discrimination and the biases of hiring managers. When they do engage in the negotiation process, candidates with disabilities do benefit. These insights call for more equitable compensation practices and greater awareness of biases in the workplace to ensure fair treatment for all job seekers. This post also made recommendations for how these results might encourage job seekers with disabilities to become more effective self-advocates.


Speach, M. E. P., Badura, K. L., & Blum, T. C. (2023). Everything is negotiable, but not for everyone: The role of disability in compensation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 108(4), 571-594.

Written by Lisa J Meier with support from ChatGPT.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *