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Employer attitudes and the employment of people with disabilities: an exploratory study using the Ambivalence Amplification Theory Open Access


Other title
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Weinkauf, Tim
Supervisor and department
Sobsey, Dick (Educational Psychology)
Examining committee member and department
Hughson, Anne (Community Rehabilitation and Disability Studies()
Carbonaro, Mike (Educational Psychology)
McDonald, Linda (Educational Psychology)
Truscott, Derek (Educational Psychology)
Wallace, Janice (Educational Policy Studies)
Department of Educational Psychology

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Labor force statistics and other evidence have demonstrated that people with disabilities are under-represented in the work place in Canada and abroad. While an assortment of factors likely contributes to this disparity, the attitudes of employers towards hiring people with disabilities are often cited as important contributors to the situation. Some authorities suggest that employer’s attitudes towards people with disabilities bias their decision-making and influence employer behavior. This concept of simple discrimination suggests that employers, like others in the general public hold unfavorable stereotypes of people with disabilities that result in discriminatory hiring practices regardless the merit of a candidate with a disability. An alternative concept, ambivalence amplification, suggests that disability and merit interact in a more complex way. Research on the general public’s reactions to disability suggests that when all else is equal, people will rate a person with a disability who is portrayed in a positive manner significantly higher than a comparable peer without a disability, but that the reverse will occur when both are portrayed in a negative fashion. This suggests that under favorable circumstances, employer’s attitudes towards employees or prospective employees with disabilities may be preferential, but under unfavorable circumstances, their negative attitudes are amplified to become more extremely negative. Both models suggest that discrimination may be occurring, but provide unique perspectives on how and if it might be occurring during employee recruitment. This study examined both simple discrimination and ambivalence amplification in order to explore their potential for explaining poor employment outcomes for people with disabilities. Ninety-nine employers rated/scored one of four condition-specific cover letters and resumes (application documents) from a hypothetical applicant either with or without a disability. As well as identifying disability status, these documents also portrayed the applicant as having merit (no errors in documents) or limited merit (multiple errors in documents). Participants were also asked if based on their review of the cover letter and resume, they would be willing to grant the applicant an interview. Analyses demonstrated that merit, as represented by error-free cover letters and resumés predicted employer behavior. There was no evidence main effect for disability status and no interaction between merit and disability status on either employer’s ratings of application documents or on their willingness to grant an interview, regardless of gender, age, education, and affiliation with a public or private business. These findings suggest that even when a person’s disability is self-reported in an application, neither simple discrimination nor ambivalence amplification influenced employer’s ratings of merit or decisions based on merit. Merit appears to be their primary focus in initial screening of potential employees. These findings further suggest that disparate employment outcomes of people with disabilities may instead be influenced later in the recruitment process, perhaps when employer’s come face-to-face with applicants with disabilities during the interview stage. It may be at this point in the hiring process that employer’s negative attitudes towards people with disabilities result in discrimination.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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