Building Equity in Employment: A Q&A with ACL Grantee Dr. Corey Moore

October 28, 2022
Dr. Anjali Forber-Pratt, Director, National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research

Each October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month celebrates the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities and showcases supportive, inclusive employment policies and practices. As part of ACL’s celebration this year, Dr. Anjali Forber-Pratt, director of ACL’s National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), interviewed Dr. Corey Moore from Langston University.

Much of Dr. Moore’s career and work has been dedicated to research that helps to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities. A long-time NIDILRR grantee, he recently received a grant from NIDILRR to establish the Employment Equity Center, which will focus on reducing the additional barriers to employment that often are experienced by disabled people who also are marginalized due race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other identities.

The Center will conduct five major studies and related activities guided by people with disabilities from underserved populations. In addition, they will establish a new mentoring program to provide guidance, training, and technical assistance to researchers from underrepresented backgrounds, including those with disabilities, to enhance research skills and contribute to scientific workforce diversity efforts.

Dr. Forber-Pratt caught up with Dr. Moore to find out more.

Dr. Forber-Pratt: Dr. Moore, what brought you to this particular line of research on employment equity for people with disabilities?

Dr. Moore: A convergence of my lived experience and educational pursuits led to my interest in employment equity research for people with disabilities. I was raised in the deep south, Glennville, Georgia, in the early 1970s by a Black mother (JoAnn Hayes-Moore) and my grandmother (Zola Mae Edwards-Hayes). My mother acquired a significant disability when I was four years old – paralysis on the left side of her body and loss of sight in one eye – from a domestic violence incident. This tragedy exposed to me my mother’s vulnerable double jeopardy position as she navigated structural race-based discriminatory and ableist systems to meet her and her children’s basic needs and to live independently. 

Then, while perusing the literature for assignments during my graduate studies, I came across a citation for a 1980 study authored by Dr. Bobbie Atkins and George Wright titled “Vocational Rehabilitation of Blacks.” This study solidified my interest in employment equity issues and influenced my doctoral dissertation, which examined race/ethnicity as a factor in predicting employment outcomes for persons with developmental disabilities. I started my academic career as a professional researcher at the (then) NIDRR-funded RRTC for Persons who are Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville. I “cut my teeth” on a project that used RSA-911 data to examine race/ethnicity and employment outcomes. My line of research has continued to center on employment equity issues.    
Dr. Forber-Pratt: What would you say to skeptics about why disability should be a part of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) work, especially for employers? 

Dr. Moore: Data consistently document disparities in employment among people with disabilities. Structural ableism often frames them as less capable, deviant, unproductive, and unemployable, and employers’ reluctance to bear additional cost in making reasonable accommodations restricts their access to employment and career development opportunities. Yet, employer attitudes and their resulting strategic plans regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion tend to center on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation while paying little attention to access as a factor for people with disabilities. We need an “A” (Access) added – making it DEIA – to ensure that this minority group and its members, people with disabilities, are included in employers’ strategic efforts to diversify the workforce and create equity.  

Dr. Forber-Pratt: The work you are starting through the Employment Equity Center is fascinating. What would you like readers to know about the research you and your team will be conducting, and how did you identify these key areas of need? Building on that, what do you hope the legacy of the Employment Equity Center will be?
Dr. Moore: The new RRTC on Advancing Employment Equity for Multiply Marginalized People with Disabilities (LU2E-RRTC) stands alongside our other RRTC on Research and Capacity Building for Minority Entities (LU-RRTC) at Langston University. The LU2E-RRTC, however, breaks the mold, as it is guided by a new paradigm for advancing the disability and employment equity science that considers (1) an intersectional lens view that highlights social categories (i.e., race, ethnicity, LGBTQIA+ status, poverty status, and rural locale) as mutually constituted and intersecting in dynamic ways, (2) a contextual expansion beyond employment status that treats income or wealth as an assessable outcome, and (3) building capacity among underrepresented researchers, especially those with disabilities. Our mission is to empower multiply marginalized people with disabilities in obtaining employment, developing careers, and generating entrepreneurial-driven wealth. We will use quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods approaches to develop a new “Intersectional Framework for Employment Equity;” explore National Survey on Health and Disability and Household Pulse Survey data to identify disparities; test a new “Small Business Incubator Model (M2-PWDI);" document employment solutions for Native Americans/American Indians (NA/AI) harmed by the opioid epidemic; and longitudinally assess employment outcomes of multiply marginalized youth with disabilities who received a career-progression model intervention. We will amplify their voices and highlight their lived experiences as crucial data points. Key areas of need were identified through our LU-RRTC travels to make ethnographic observations of people with disabilities from underserved communities in the continental U.S. (i.e., Navajo Nation reservation, Rio Grande Valley, rural Black locales) and its territories (i.e., Guam, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands, Northern Marianas Islands); an LU-RRTC listening session held on May 27, 2020; and various NIDILRR/ACL listening sessions. 

I hope that the legacy of our LU2E-RRTC will be increased social and economic capital and power among multiply marginalized people with disabilities that will lead to their full participation in employment and reduced disparities.  
Dr. Forber-Pratt: So much of your career has been focused not only on conducting and doing this important research, but also on capacity building and helping to grow and nurture the next generation of disability and rehabilitation researchers. Tell us more about this part of your mission and why this is important to you. 

Dr. Moore: As a part of the Employment Equity Center’s capacity building agenda, we will implement a Visiting Disability and Rehabilitation Equity Researcher Mentorship Program (VERMP) and a NA/AI Circles of Knowing initiative. These efforts will be cross-fertilized through our current on-going LU-RRTC initiatives (e.g., research methods webinars, communities of practice, NIDILRR grant writing trainings) to grow the supply of well-trained underrepresented researchers, especially those with disabilities. As an underrepresented researcher myself, I have experienced first-hand barriers that prevent many from becoming members of the “NDIILRR funded-class.” It is important that we have researchers who represent the rich diversity of the country in terms of disability, race, ethnicity, LGBTQIA+ status, poverty status, and rural locale, as they often have a greater appreciation of the employment issues impacting their respective communities. 

The Employment Equity Center is one of three new equity-focused Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers funded by NIDILRR. RRTCs conduct research, provide training and technical assistance, and share information to improve the effectiveness of services authorized under the Rehabilitation Act. These activities are designed to benefit rehabilitation service providers, people with disabilities and their families, and other stakeholders. 

Last modified on 10/28/2022

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