In forming focus groups, we made an effort to construct groups by impairment (i.e., cognitive, communication, mental illness, mobility and other chronic illness) on the assumption that variability in support use and other important characteristics would decrease with impairment homogeneity, and encourage in-depth discussions of shared experiences. Scheduling difficulties prevented us from achieving high rates of homogeneity among focus groups, although the groups were as homogenous as could be achieved under the circumstances. Because of the special communication limitations associated with individuals with cognitive disabilities, we did not form any mixed disability groups that included individuals with cognitive impairments. Each group was made up of six to ten participants.
At the beginning of each focus group, participants were asked to complete a registration form (Attachment A-2), which collected additional demographic and employment history information. Participants were asked about current employment (job title, industry, and schedule of employment), household income from all sources, number of adults and children in household, and reasons for employment interruptions. Participants were also asked to rank the importance of various supports in helping secure employment.
The focus groups sessions were approximately 2.5 hours in length. The discussion concentrated on the supports that members received and/or used that contributed to their ability to work in the competitive labor market. The moderator emphasized that supports could be defined very broadly, to include anything that has helped participants get and keep a job.
During each focus group session, we addressed three key topics:
Supports that participants used when their disabilities first occurred (or during childhood, if individuals became disabled at an early age). We were mainly interested in the supports that contributed to participants' ability to obtain competitive employment as an adult;
Supports that were instrumental in participants finding their first job and starting work; and
Supports that participants currently use to continue working.
The moderator encouraged participants to consider how the expectations of family, friends, and other key persons in their lives affected their employment choices. The moderator also reminded participants to consider which, of all types of supports they had used, are/were most important to their employment, including those not traditionally thought of as supports, and those not targeted toward individuals with disabilities. The focus group discussion guide is presented as Attachment A-3.