Employment Programs for Disabled Youth: An International View

By Brodsky, Melvin | Monthly Labor Review, December 1990 | Go to article overview
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Employment Programs for Disabled Youth: An International View


Brodsky, Melvin, Monthly Labor Review


The transition of young disabled people from school to work is an issue of increasing concern to U.S. government policymakers. Currently, only one-third of all disabled Americans with disabilities work, although the remaining two-thirds who are not working would like to have a job, but may or may not be looking for one. However, data show that more than 15 percent of individuals with disabilities are unemployed compared with approximately 5 percent for the general population.(1) For young disabled people, the employment situation has been even worse. The Disability Advisory Council, a commission created by Congress to study the effectiveness of the current Federal employment/disability policy and programs, noted in its 1988 Report to Congress that few high school graduates with developmental disabilities make a successful transition from school to sustained, gainful employment. It is estimated that in 1986, more than 90 percent of these special education graduates became dependent in some way after high school.(2)

However, a number of emerging trends in the United States will likely improve the employment prospects for young people with disabilities in the years to come. First, the growth of the labor force is slowing as a result of declining birth rates. This will force employers to look beyond their traditional sources to other groups, such as people with disabilities, to fill entry level positions. Second, with the restructuring of the American economy and the relative decline in numbers of jobs requiring manuals skills, physical limitations will become less hindering for young disabled persons. Third, the recent enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act will remove many obstacles which have thwarted the job-search efforts of young disabled people.

While these trends are encouraging, criticisms remain as to the effectiveness of U.S. employment policies for people with disabilities. In its February 1986 report to the President, the National Council of the Handicapped attributed the ineffectiveness of the current transition process to the "absence of a systematic vocational transition process for youths with disabilities."(3)

What are other countries doing to ease the transitions process? This report, which is based upon the findings of two cooperative U.S.--Organization for Economic Cooperation Development (OECD) activities, describes employment policies and programs, incentive plans, and job creation programs to aid disabled young jobseekers in Japan, Sweden Italy, Denmark, and the United States.(4)

International overview

Although the emphasis of individual employment strategies for disabled persons differs among countries--quotas in Japan, subsidized employment in Sweden, elimination of barriers in the United States--there are areas of agreement. First, there is a growing realization that disabled people must become an integral part of society if they are to achieve independence. Danish disability policy is centered around three principles--normalization, integration, and decentralization. In Sweden, the aim of disability policy is to avoid special solutions for the disabled to the extent possible and make society as a whole accessible to all. In Italy, where local authorities are responsible for funding and programs, the successful Genoa Approach is being replicated in Venice and Rome and other Italian cities. This model seeks to place and sustain young persons with moderate and severe mental disabilities in regular, rather than sheltered, employment. Japanese measures for the disabled are based on the ideal of "normalization." In the United States, Federal policy has similarly stressed the importance of integrating people with disabilities into society.

The importance of gainful, unsubsidized employment is another area of agreement. While Sweden's policy of "Employment for All" has resulted in the creation of 80,000 subsidized jobs for the disabled, the overall goal is to place these people in unsubsidized employment.

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