October was National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a time set aside each year to acknowledge and advance the contributions of people with disabilities to America’s economy. The US Department of Labor deemed this year’s theme to be advancing access and equity. The Americans with Disabilities Act defines an individual with a disability as someone who has a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.” People with disabilities therefore represent a diverse range of challenges and perspectives. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), for example, face a particular set of challenges in the labor market despite federal interventions such as the Higher Education Opportunity Act (2008) and the Workforce Innovations and Opportunities Act (2014). Only 10 percent of US adults with IDD were employed at a job earned through the open labor market as opposed to sheltered work experiences or participation in nonwork day programs.
Vocational education programs often have positive effects on employment outcomes for young adults with IDD. However, the field lacks rigorous research on the intervention length needed to achieve these positive outcomes.
Researchers Lucy Barnard-Brak, David M. Richman, Kagendo Mutua, and Amy Williamson fill this gap with a study of young adults enrolled in the CrossingPoints transition to community employment program at the University of Alabama. The study sample includes 56 individuals with an IDD who participated in the program. The analysis explores the relationship between the number of program sessions completed and obtaining employment in the community while controlling for participants’ IQs and adaptive functioning scores.
- The most important factor in maximizing the probability of obtaining community employment is to directly teach a job’s tasks. On average, participants were hired into community employment after 33 job-training sessions, although the authors stress that the instructional content is more significant than this number.
- Participants’ severity of impairment in intellectual and adaptive behavior was not predictive of community employment outcomes.
Policy and practice implications
WorkRise has identified the following implications for policy and practice:
- Policymakers and practitioners should promote the use of vocational job-training programs for adults with IDD. Regardless of the severity of impairment of participants in the program, the direct instruction of job-specific skills removes barriers to employment without attempting to change broader skills and behavior.
- Vocational programs for adults with IDD should teach the specific skills needed to completethe required tasks of a desired job for the most effective community employment outcomes. This study finds that this approach was more important for program outcomes than other variables such as diagnosis or level of intellectual impairment; however, because the study only analyzes data from one program, the results may not apply to every vocational program. Further research may be needed to determine the efficacy of other community employment program models.
- Practitioners and employers should work together to identify the skills required to complete tasks in specific community employment settings. These skills can inform training sessions to create a reliable talent pipeline for local employers and pathways to independence for adults with intellectual and development disabilities.
Employment is positively correlated with quality of life measures for adults with and without IDD. Skills-based training programs are successful in matching adults with these types of disabilities to meaningful employment opportunities. It is advantageous for everyone when policymakers, employers, and practitioners support training programs for people with IDD that lead to community employment.