Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

The Consortium for Employment Success: Collaboration as a Strategy to Optimize Employment Outcomes for People with Disabilities

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

The Consortium for Employment Success: Collaboration as a Strategy to Optimize Employment Outcomes for People with Disabilities

Article excerpt

The data concerning the high unemployment of people with disabilities is stark and stubbornly consistent. People with disabilities have much higher unemployment rates then people without disabilities (Burkhanser & Houtenville, 2003). Many people with disabilities would like to work but cannot find appropriate employment (NOD, 2000; 2004); and when they do find a job, some people with disabilities struggle to retain their position (Gibbs, 1990; Mueser, Becker, & Wolfe, 2001). Further, employment rates of people with disabilities did not significantly improve, and may in fact have worsened (Burkhauser, Daly, & Houtenville, 2001) during the 1990's business cycle. While there is little doubt that the ADA has improved accessibility and opportunities for many people with disabilities (Silverstein, Julnes, & Nolan, 2005), much more needs to be done if consumers are to reach their goals of participating in, and benefiting equally from our society.

The challenge of assisting people with disabilities to find and retain appropriate employment has not gone unaddressed. The federal government, in partnership with the states as part of the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program, has spent billions of dollars to provide placement assistance to people with disabilities. Along with VR, other public and private agencies--including thousands of not-for-profit community rehabilitation programs (CRP's)--provide numerous employment related services to people with disabilities in an attempt to help consumers enter and remain in the labor market. While many people have benefited from these placement and retention services, others have not.

While it is clear that employer attitudes are in part to blame for the high unemployment of people with disabilities, Hernanadez, Keys, and Balcazar, (2000) found that employers expressed a willingness to hire people with disabilities but often did not because they perceived applicants with disabilities as being unqualified. This perception is consistent with research by Gilbride and Stensrud, (1993) who also found that employers reported a willingness to hire people with disabilities but were unable to recruit them. While these employer perceptions may be in part self justification, they might also point to the broader challenge of finding ways to narrow the gap between consumers and employers.

Millington, Miller, Asner-Self, and Linkowski, (2003) asserted that rehabilitation counselors must improve their ability to understand employer's needs and more clearly recognize how employers manage their personnel systems. They concluded that rehabilitation counselors must develop the skills necessary to partner with employers during the entire personnel process, and not just focus on the specific hiring event.

Gilbride, Stensrud, Vandergoot, and Golden (2003) found that many employers welcome thoughtful, timely, effective support in meeting their personnel needs and dealing with disability related issues. They found that employers who received ongoing support and assistance from rehabilitation professionals appreciated that assistance and believed that it increased their ability to successfully hire and accommodate people with disabilities. Employers also indicated that they would like "one point of contact" for all their disability related questions. Employers are often confused and frustrated by the myriad of providers in their communities. They often struggle with understanding the differences between agencies and find the inconsistency of procedures and lack of responsiveness of some providers wearisome.

Vandergoot and Martin (1986) argued 20 years ago that placement professionals need to form cooperative partnerships with businesses to meet the shared goal of placing suitable workers in available job openings. Much research has been conducted over the past few decades (Fry, 1997; Gilbride & Stensrud, 1992; Vandergoot, 1987, 2000) documenting the importance of developing effective relationships with employers to improve employment opportunities for consumers. …

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