Differences in Perceptions of Career Barriers and Supports for People with Disabilities by Demographic, Background and Case Status Factors

Article excerpt

people with disabilities encounter a number of barriers as they make the decision to enter or re-enter the workplace. Some of these barriers might be described as external as they involve environmental and workplace supports such as transportation, accommodations, and job opportunities (Loprest & Maag, 2001). Other barriers might be described as internal, as they involve self-perceptions regarding adequacy of work experience, work skills, and vocational beliefs that are necessary considerations and influences in the job search process (Bolton, 1983; Belgrave & Walker, 1991; Corbiere, Mercier & Lesage, 2004). Whatever the locus of these barriers, there is ample evidence that they may represent impediments to work. For example, despite the increase in general employment rates over the past ten years, adults with disabilities continue to lag behind their nondisabled counterparts in terms of hours worked, wages earned, and unemployment and under-employment rates. In these areas, men and women who report a work limitation earn an average of 46% of their nondisabled counterparts' earnings; and report an unemployment rate of almost 81% compared to 23% of those without a work limitation (Houtenville, 2006).

In response to these employment disparities for people with disabilities, a number of studies have investigated various aspects associated with positive employment outcomes. They include research on personality and psychological attributes (Asbury, Walker, Maholmes, Green & Belgrave, 1994; McShane & Karp, 1993), demographic and disability characteristics (Capella, 2003; Marshak, Bostick & Turton, 1990; James, DeVivo, & Richards, 1993; Moore, 2002), and employer attitudes and workplace issues (Gouvier, Sytsma-Jordan, & Mayville, 2003; Kenny, 1998), among others. Despite the number of studies, findings have been inconclusive due, in part, to the multivariate nature of the variables involved and the lack of theoretical grounding of the studies (Saunders, Leahy, McGlynn & Estrada-Hernandez, 2006).

One area that has received considerably less attention in terms of understanding career-related behavior is how perceived barriers influence pursuit of career goals. Lent, Brown and Hackett (2000) describe career barriers as objective (e.g., socioeconomic status) or perceived (e.g., gender bias); similarly Crites (1969) described career barriers as external or internal. From this theoretical perspective, perceived career barriers represent "events or conditions either within the person or in his or her environment that make career progress difficult" (Swanson & Woitke, 1997; p. 434). Kenny and her colleagues (Kenny, Blustein, Chaves, Grossman & Gallgher, 2003) view constructs such as career barriers within a dynamic person/environment process, where an individual "actively processes and gives meaning to environment experience and acts on these interpretations in ways that further shape the environment" (p. 142). For example, if an individual with a disability anticipates encountering stigma in the workplace, his or her subsequent behavior toward co-workers may reflect this expectation, which in turn may affect co-worker behavior. Perceived career barriers have been found to have considerable influence over various career-related behaviors of diverse groups, including women, ethnic minorities, college students, urban adolescents, and individuals with disabilities (e.g., Bishop, 2002; Brooks, Martin, Ortiz, & Veniegua, 2004; Fouad & Byars-Winston, 2005; Gutman, McKay, Ketterlinus, & McLellen, 2003; Lopez & Ann-Yi, 2006; Kenny et al., 2003).

The concept of perceived career barriers was first explored as a factor that might help explain career choices of women, particularly regarding their under-representation in science and technology careers (Lent et al., 2000; Swanson, Daniels & Tokar, 1996). In 1997, Swanson and Woitke suggested that perceived barriers affect both career choices and performance for women. …