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


We conducted focus groups with people with disabilities at a single locality in each of three states. Because there is considerable variation across states in the nature and availability of policies and resources promoting the employment of people with disabilities, we focused the project's resources on only three sites so that they might be studied more in-depth.

Replication is another important reason to conduct the study in three sites, rather than one. While some findings will vary across the sites, we expect many findings to be similar and, therefore, more likely to be common to the experiences of workers with disabilities all over the country. Even though three sites cannot be nationally representative in a meaningful sense, the fact that some findings are replicated in the three diverse sites we have selected will give them more weight.

We selected three states with interesting features relevant to the purpose of our study. After selecting the states, our primary criteria for selecting the locality within each state was population size. We wanted to conduct the study in the localities with the largest populations, both to make it easier to recruit participants who meet the study criteria, and to broaden the potential range of supports that could be studied.

The criteria we considered in selecting the study states include:

  • states with relatively high rates of employment among SSI recipients and high rates of participation in SSI work incentive programs (Section 1619, Plan for Achieving Self Support (PASS), and Impairment-Related Work Expenses (IRWE));

  • states with an expressed interest in implementing the 1997 Balanced Budget Act provisions that allow Medicaid buy-in for people with disabilities with incomes up to 250% of the federal poverty level;1

  • states with 1115 demonstrations that were likely to affect the employment of people with disabilities by making Medicaid coverage more accessible or providing specific services that might affect the ability of people with disabilities to work;

  • states with TANF policies that limit or do not allow exemptions from work requirements for people with disabilities;

  • states with special initiatives or particularly innovative programs designed to promote the employment of people with disabilities; and

  • states and localities not currently being studied for related purposes by other large-scale projects (e.g., the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research [NIDRR] Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers [RRTCs] on employment of people with disabilities, the Rehabilitation Services Administration [RSA] and SSA systems change demonstrations).

In considering which states to select, we also put some weight on the presence of contacts that Lewin/BPA have in specific states. This is important given the effort necessary to identify and recruit persons meeting our study criteria. If the information were available, we would have chosen states that have a high rate of employment among persons with significant disabilities. However, state-level estimates of employment rates among persons with disabilities were not available. We therefore relied on the criteria described above, which we believe to be indicators of supports and resources that promote employment among people with disabilities.

Based on the above criteria, we selected California, New Jersey, and Washington as the three states for the study. The characteristics of these states that led to their inclusion in the study are as follows (at the time of selection):

  • California: California is a large state with a wide range of disability and employment programs and supports, including an SSA systems change demonstration, and multiple RSA demonstrations, DOL initiatives, and Welfare-to-Work projects that address the issue of employment of people with disabilities. California also has: a relatively high percentage of residents participating in the SSI program, offers a generous state SSI supplement, and will implement a 4733 Medicaid waiver with its systems change project. California was selected primarily because of size, availability of resources, and the extensive contacts BPA has in the state, which facilitated the conduct of the study.

  • New Jersey: New Jersey has a Medicaid 1115 waiver (implemented in February 1998) that provides coverage to people with incomes up to 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), and up to 300 percent of FPL on a sliding-scale basis. The state also has a federal PAS demonstration that allows the use of PAS at work, and has DOL and Welfare-to-Work demonstrations. Use of Section 1619(b) among working SSI recipients is average, and individuals with disabilities are exempted from TANF work requirements only temporarily. The state has no RSA or SSA systems change demonstration.

  • Washington: Washington State has the second highest percentage of working SSI recipients using 1619(a), is among the highest for 1619(b) use, and has the second highest state SSI supplement. In addition, Washington has the following features: a DOL disability initiative; a Welfare-to-Work project; an RSA client choice demonstration; and no exemptions for people with disabilities from TANF work requirements. Washington was also recommended by several Technical Advisory Group (TAG) members because of the state's interest in disability and employment issues and the presence of private initiatives. Washington does not have an RSA or SSA systems change grant.

We conducted the focus group activities in the major metropolitan areas of each state. Most of the programs serving people with disabilities we identified are located in the major metropolitan areas of each state, and the greatest concentration of working persons with disabilities meeting our study guidelines were likely to be found in the major metropolitan areas. Of the states selected: Los Angeles represents the largest metropolitan area in California2; Newark is the largest metropolitan area in New Jersey; and Seattle represents the largest metropolitan area in Washington.