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Ageing, disability and workplace accommodations


In most western nations, laws discourage discrimination in paid employment on the basis of disability, but for these policies to be of benefit, individuals must define their functional limitations as disabilities. There is a strong relationship between age and disability among those of working age, yet it is unclear whether older workers attribute their limitations to disability or to ‘natural ageing’. If the latter is true, they may not believe that they need or qualify for workplace accommodations (i.e. adaptations or interventions at the workplace). Similarly, if an employer ascribes a worker's limitation to ‘natural ageing’, rather than to a disability, they may not offer compensatory accommodation. Using data from the Canadian 2001 Participation and Activity Limitation Survey, this paper asks whether workers who ascribe their functional limitation to ageing are as likely as those who do not to report a need for a workplace accommodation. It also addresses whether those who identify a need for compensatory accommodations and who ascribe their limitation to ageing have unmet workplace-accommodation needs. The findings suggest that, even when other factors are controlled, e.g. the type and severity of disability, the number of limiting conditions, gender, age, education, income and occupation, those who made the ageing attribution were less likely to recognise the need for an accommodation; and among those who acknowledged a need, those who ascribed their disability to ageing were less likely to have their needs met.

Corresponding author
Department of Sociology, Social Science Centre, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario N6A 5C2, Canada. e-mails: and
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Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
  • URL: /core/journals/ageing-and-society
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