Research on Employment Supports for People with Disabilities: Summary of the Focus Group Findings. B. Study Background


The purpose of this study is to collect detailed information on the experiences of people with significant disabilities who are competitively employed, the events and factors affecting their employment decisions, the relative importance of specific factors, and the reasons for successful and unsuccessful employment attempts. Our goal is to gain a better understanding of the role supports can play in: assisting people with significant disabilities to participate successfully in competitive employment; improving employment outcomes for people with disabilities who are currently employed; and improving the employment outcomes of people with disabilities who are not currently employed. This project is unique among the many investigations of the factors affecting the employment of people with disabilities in that it focuses on those who have achieved a measure of success in employment, and the factors contributing to their success.

The collection of this information is intended to advance the understanding of the effect of supports and programs on the employment of people with disabilities. The project is designed to provide information that might be used by federal agencies, states, social service agencies, advocates for people with disabilities, and consumers with disabilities to develop and inform policies that will promote the employment of people with significant disabilities and to develop further research on the issues.

In this study, we define the term "supports" very broadly. Supports may include public or private income or in-kind transfers, such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and payments for medical care, prescription drugs, medical devices, assistive technology, and personal assistant services. Supports also include employment development programs, such as employment and training programs, job search and retention programs, independent living programs, other housing supports, special education, school-to-work programs, and transportation services. Laws and regulations that encourage behaviors (on the part of firms or individuals) that promote the employment of people with disabilities and informal assistance provided by family members, co-workers, or friends also fall under the definition of supports used in this study.

The study has four major components:

Literature Review: We conducted a comprehensive review of the recent literature (since 1990) on issues related to the employment of people with disabilities, including the effects of income support programs on employment of people with disabilities; access to health insurance and incentives for employment; childhood disability and transitions from school to work; employment programs; personal assistance services (PAS) and assistive devices; and recent legislation, proposals and initiatives.

Inventory of Employment Programs Serving People with Disabilities: We developed an inventory of public and private programs at the national, state, and local level that support, promote, or otherwise affect the employment of people with disabilities.

Focus Groups with Working People with Disabilities: We conducted approximately 45 focus groups at three sites (Los Angeles, California; Newark, New Jersey; and Seattle/Tacoma, Washington) with 284 participants, designed to collect detailed information on participants' employment experiences.

Profiles of the State and Local Environments and Resources Affecting the Employment of People with Disabilities: We developed profiles of federal, state and local resources and programs (public and private) that promote employment of people with disabilities and that are available in each focus group locality.

The general research issues we address in the study include:

  • What federal, state, and local supports are utilized by people with disabilities and how do these supports promote employment? How do people with disabilities learn about the supports available, and how frequently are they utilized?

  • What employer supports are utilized by people with disabilities?

  • What interactions exist among the various support resources? Do eligibility criteria for some resources counter the work incentives created by other resources?

  • What supports do people with disabilities say they need to work? What is the relative importance of the various supports in influencing their work effort?