October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. For 2022, the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) at the Department of Labor selected Disability: Part of the Equity Equation as the theme. As ODEP Assistant Secretary Taryn Williams noted: “A strong workforce is the sum of many parts, and disability has always been a key part of the equation.” NIDILRR-funded research and development supporting employment of people with disabilities has looked at all sides of the employment equation: current and future workers, employers, self-employed people, and the service providers who bridge the gaps between seekers and hirers. Here’s a look at some of the current projects working in this area, and the resources they’ve created to support workforce equity.
Transition: Supporting Future Workers
NIDILRR-funded research and development activities support emerging workers, such as young people with disabilities transitioning from school to the workforce, heading to college and career readiness, and exploring their roles as peer providers. These include:
- Career and Occupational Readiness Experience (CORE): Enhancing Supported Employment for TAY with Psychiatric Disabilities which is testing the CORE program for transition-age youth (TAY) with youth-onset psychiatric disabilities. Check out their Virtual Best Practice Guide for Youth & Young Adult Community Mental Health Providers (PDF).
- Effects of Customized Employment on the Employment Outcomes of Transition-Age Youth with Disabilities: A Randomized Clinical Trial which uses customized employment as an intervention to assist young people with intellectual disabilities and/or autism to achieve integrated employment outcomes. Visit their website for case studies of customized employment and an archive of webinars from experts in the field.
- Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Employment of Transition-Age Youth with Disabilities focuses on competitive integrated employment and evidence-based research to support youth with disabilities in this environment. Read their research brief on Stakeholder Perspectives on Paid Work Experiences of Youth with Disabilities.
Seeking, Finding, and Succeeding: Supporting Job Seekers and Workers with Disabilities
Workers with disabilities may encounter barriers throughout their careers, from the job search process to getting ahead on the job. Research and development supporting workers in their quest for employment success include:
- Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Employment for People with Physical Disabilities promotes job retention by people with physical disabilities through multiple projects including telehealth pain self-management interventions, job accommodation strategies and assistive technology solutions in rural areas, and more. Check out their workshop video series on job accommodations.
- Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Improving Employment Outcomes for Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities conducts a coordinated program of research and knowledge translation projects and activities that builds on existing evidence-based supported employment and improves employment outcomes for individuals with psychiatric disabilities. Explore their Employment Repository for potential and current workers.
- Using Virtual Reality to Improve Job Reentry in Adults with TBI is a randomized controlled trial of an intervention using virtual reality job interview training with people who have sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and are preparing to return to work. Hear an interview with the lead investigator about this innovative study.
Entrepreneurial Spirit: Supporting Business Owners and Self-Employed People with Disabilities
For some workers with disabilities, employment success looks like working for yourself. Research and development supporting entrepreneurs, business owners, gig workers, and other self-employed individuals with disabilities include:
- Reclaiming Employment: Self-Employment Resources for Mental Health Service Users is developing and evaluating a public-facing online platform that provides support for individuals with psychiatric disabilities to pursue self-employment and entrepreneurship. Learn about the platform and two new courses for current and future business owners.
- Field Initiated Project on Contingent Employment of Individuals with Disabilities (FIP-CE) is studying the participation, practices, and characteristics of people with disabilities engaged in contingent work (e.g., freelancing, gig work), as well as their rationales, attitudes, perceptions, and experiences in contingent work arrangements. If you work in the gig economy, you can participate in their current survey.
- Promoting Entrepreneurship Among Low-Income Youth with Disabilities develops and evaluates a school-based model to promote employment and/or entrepreneurship outcomes among transition-aged minority youth with disabilities from low-income communities. Unit 1: Entrepreneurial Mindset is now available (PDF).
Inclusive Workplaces: Supporting Employers and Identifying Effective Employer Practices
On the employer side of the equation, NIDILRR-funded research and development looks at what works in the private and federal sectors and what supports may help to build inclusive workplaces, from accessible hiring tools and practices to policies that recognize and promote diverse talents. These include:
- Workplace Accommodation Expert Support System (Work ACCESS) is an online tool being developed to help employers assess the workplace accommodation needs of their employees with disabilities. Read their briefs of accommodation problems and solutions associated with telework and reopening with COVID-19 (PDFs).
- Disability Employer Practices Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) conducts research to examine the efficacy and scalability of employer practices to create positive employment outcomes for workers with disabilities. Watch investigator Lisa Schur testifying before congress on lessons learned from COVID highlighting innovations maximizing inclusive practices and overcoming barriers to employment for people with disabilities.
- Connecting Practices to Outcomes: Lessons from the Federal Sector Workplace uses federal sector secondary data and qualitative focus groups to assess the impact of employer practice adoption on the retention, advancement, separation, and the workplace experience of individuals with disabilities. Watch the webinar on lessons learned from the federal sector.
Connecting Workers and Employers: Supporting Employment Services
Vocational rehabilitation and other employment services help job seekers with disabilities navigate the path from job search to stable employment. They also help employers connect to qualified candidates and build a diverse workforce. NIDILRR-funded research and development on the employment services side of the equation include:
- Scale-Up Progressive Employment (PE): Promoting Implementation of a Tested Practice to Improve Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service Delivery and Outcomes promotes the adoption of PE by developing implementation and evaluation tools. Learn about the Progressive Employment: Learning Collaborative.
- Improving VR Outcomes for Out-of-School Youth Involved in the Justice and/or Foster Care Systems is a mixed method exploratory research to learn how the public vocational rehabilitation (VR) program can effectively serve out-of-school youth (ages 16-24) with intellectual, developmental, and mental health disabilities who are involved in the justice and/or foster care systems, ultimately contributing to the outcome domain of employment.
- ES-Coach: A Smartphone and Web-Based Performance Coaching Application for Employment Specialists and Teams is helping to bridge the gap between evidence-based employment supports and what is implemented by employment specialists. See ES-Coach in action and learn how to sign up.
These are just a few examples of NIDILRR-funded projects underway supporting successful outcomes for job seekers, workers, and self-employed people with disabilities, as well as their employers and the employment services professionals they work with. Explore the full portfolio of current employment-related grantees in the NIDILRR Program Database!