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Survey Finds Just 1 In 3 With Intellectual Disabilities Employed


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Adults with intellectual disabilities are struggling to find their place in the workforce, according to a new Gallup survey finding that two-thirds have no job.

Of those who are working, slightly more than half are employed in competitive environments alongside those without disabilities, while 38 percent work in sheltered workshops and 9 percent are self-employed.

The findings come from a national poll of more than 1,000 parents or guardians of adults with intellectual disabilities conducted for Special Olympics by Gallup and the Center for Social Development and Education at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

The results — published in the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation — suggest that those with intellectual disabilities are participating in the labor force at about half the rate of typically developing adults.

“A meaningful job is important to most of us, and people with intellectual disabilities are no different,” said Gary Siperstein, director of the Center for Social Development and Education at the University of Massachusetts Boston and the lead researcher of the study. “Government has invested millions of dollars in better outcomes for adults with (intellectual disabilities) as they transition out of high school and into the labor force. Unfortunately, this study shows that we haven’t done enough.”

The survey found that among the roughly one-third who are employed, only 26 percent work full-time. And wages differed significantly depending on where individuals worked. Some 85 percent of those staffing sheltered workshops earned less than minimum wage while nearly all of those in competitive positions took home around or above the minimum in their state, researchers said.

Of the individuals with intellectual disabilities employed competitively, almost one-third worked in customer service, the survey found. Other popular fields included retail and food service while a smaller number of respondents cited office work, manufacturing or positions in landscaping, construction, childcare and animal care.

One positive finding, researchers said, is that the majority of those with intellectual disabilities who are employed — whether competitively or at sheltered workshops — have been at their current job for three years or more suggesting a high level of job security.

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Comments (4 Responses)

  1. Joyce Oxfeld says:

    Being politically correct is one thing. But when it comes to disability as associated with stigma, whether retardation, developmental disability, neurological or mental; these are distinct and different categories. They all have in common unfair and abusive stigma problems. Some of the cover all terms used now , such as intellectual disability is mind boggling to me. Now a recent missing senior was referred by her family , as ‘cognitively impaired’. That could mean she has dementia, or is being misused by her family in publicizing her disappearance with ,designating that problem with her disappearance. We are running into some serious ethical and legal problems here . I feel it should be noted.

  2. carolyn siewicki says:

    As a mom with a child with intellectual disabilities I feel compelled to post a comment. My daughter, Jennifer is 30 years old and also has medical issues. I got her, her 1st job that she had for 4 years. She went off to college in the OPTIONS Program for 3 years and the last 2 1/2 years looking for competitive employment. The agencies paid with Medicaid dollars to help her obtain employment are not motivated. Many are disrespectful to Jennifer and do not even respond to phone calls and emails. What I hear she is one of many facing these challenges.

  3. Dadvocate says:

    This issue is not new. Easter Seals got similar data a few years ago. For some people with autism (versus DS and ID) the numbers are even worse.

    Public/private sector innovation is what’s needed. Politically astute non-ID disability advocates tossing thousands out of stable work situations by shutting down sheltered workshops (versus working to make them better) or bureaucrats creating more government funded training for jobs that don’t exist, are not the right paths. Creating new opportunities, and not just of the sorting cleaning and shredding variety, especially in small businesses, will be the answer for many.. Autism Speaks is pushing in that direction, thank goodness. .

  4. Judy Shanley says:

    Hi – I don’t have access to the Journal of Voc Rehab – and wondered whether the survey included questions about how access to reliable transportation may or may not affect employment? Thanks
    Judy Shanley, Ph.D. Director of Student Engagement and Mobility Management, Easter Seals Transportation Group.

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