Disabled Face Multiple Barriers to Employment

By Sykes, Russell | Policy & Practice, September 2007 | Go to article overview

Disabled Face Multiple Barriers to Employment


Sykes, Russell, Policy & Practice


In recent decades, there has been an increased expectation that individuals with disabilities should have the opportunity to work. This is evident in the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Reconciliation Act and Ticket to Work legislation. State and local governments are encouraged to develop supports and services to enhance employment access and job retention for persons with disabilities.

Helping people secure and retain jobs and manage their money effectively is a difficult undertaking in general for all workers with minimal work experience and skill deficits, but it can be even harder for those who may have physical or mental health barriers to overcome and for those with learning disabilities, all of whom may need intensive case management and often special work accommodations. Here we look at three areas of helping people with borderline disabilities and other barriers to employment move toward self-sufficiency: 1) the importance of properly assessing an individual's barriers/needs, 2) case management and work readiness/accommodation efforts, and 3) the importance of financial literacy and additional economic supports and services to augment wages. These individuals need our help in order to join the economic mainstream.

Individuals with disabilities are far more commonly poor, whether they are working or collecting government benefits. They are subject to high-cost rent-to-own operations, tax refund loans and "sponging" boyfriends and family members. Individuals with disabilities who receive government benefits often don't have bank accounts, are unaccustomed to using checkbooks and are often behind in their rent and utility payments. In one case, a woman with a cognitive disability did not discriminate well and unscrupulous acquaintances would enter her apartment unchallenged and take her Social Security checks. In that case it was necessary to make a referral to Adult Protective Services. Adult Services obtained secure housing for her, a representative payee and direct deposit for her Social Security checks. Such situations are not uncommon.

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Assessing Barriers/Needs

There is growing recognition of the existence and effects of "hidden" or unidentified barriers to self-sufficiency. These barriers are recognized to be more prevalent within the long-term welfare population and typically influence many areas of an individual's life. The individual may be unaware of the barrier and/or its effects. An individual with an undiagnosed math calculation learning disability will likely have difficulties managing a household budget and monitoring expenditures. The New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance is developing a comprehensive screening tool to be used with long-term TANF recipients that will preferably be conducted in conjunction with a home visit. More contextual information is revealed through home visits by observing home conditions and family interactions than is often obtained in office visits. The screening tool will explore mental health problems, learning disabilities, health problems, legal, family and housing issues. It also contains a series of financial resource questions intended to determine whether the household has any unmet material needs to be addressed:

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1. Do you currently use a monthly budget?

* Yes

* No

2. Do you have ongoing expenses that go unpaid?

* Yes

* No

3. Do you have a good credit history?

* Yes

* No

4. If your monthly funds do not cover all of your expenses, what does not get paid or what do you cut back on?

5. Do you run out of food before the end of the month?

* Yes

* No

6. Do your children have clothes for all seasons?

* Yes

* No

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7. Do you have clothing that is appropriate for job interviews and work?

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