Career Development of People with Developmental Disabilities: An Ecological Model
Szymanski, Edna Mora, Hanley-Maxwell, Cheryl, The Journal of Rehabilitation
The presence of a developmental disability has the potential to influence career development. The combination of the onset of disability during the formative years and the developmental nature of career development (see e.g., Super, 1990; Vondracek, Lerner, & Schulenberg, 1986) can lead to a variety of impediments. However, negative effects on career development are, by no means, a necessary consequence of disability.
The term, developmental disabilities, includes a wide range of conditions. Specifically, it refers to a severe, chronic physical or mental disability manifested before the age of twenty-two that results in substantial functional limitations in three or more areas of major life activity (B. Gearheart, Mullen, & C. Gearheart, 1993). Although the term is often used synonymously with mental retardation, it actually includes a wide range of severe physical disabilities that occur without cognitive impairment.
Learning may or may not be impeded by a developmental disability. When it is, learners may have some or all of the following characteristics: slower learning rate; fewer learned skills during school; better learning with concrete as opposed to abstract instruction; and deficits in language and communication, interpersonal relationships, and behavioral control. Incidental learning cannot be assumed, and skill generalization and maintenance problems are common (Henley, Ramsey, & Algozzine, 1993; Snell, 1987).
The combination of the heterogeneity of individuals with developmental disabilities (B. Gearheart et al., 1993) and the dynamic, individual nature of career development (see e.g., Lent & Hackett, 1994; Vondracek et al., 1986) means that the presence of a developmental disability cannot predict either career development or needed interventions. Rehabilitation professionals must understand the process of career development and the potential influences of developmental disabilities. To this end, we will explore the career development of people with developmental disabilities through discussion of the following topics: (a) an ecological approach to career development and disability, and (b) career related interventions for people with developmental disabilities.
An Ecological Approach to Career Development and Disability
There is no definitive theory of career development and disability nor should there be. "Career development is, for most people, a lifelong process of getting ready to choose, choosing, and typically continuing to make choices from among the many occupations available in our society" (Brown & Brooks, 1984, p. ix). It is a process that depends very much on the heterogeneity of individuals and is influenced by the context in which they live (Szymanski, Hershenson, Enright, & Ettinger, in press; Vondracek & Fouad, 1994). Therefore, disability, in and of itself, does not determine career development.
Nonetheless, people with disabilities are known to have a much higher rate of unemployment than people without disabilities (Taylor, 1994). Disability, therefore, is a risk factor that should be carefully considered in assisting individuals with developmental disabilities in career planning and preparation. Before examining the potential influences of disability on career development, we will provide an overview of career development and some resulting caveats.
There are a multitude of career development theories within counseling (see e.g., Brown, Brooks, & Associates, 1990; Osipow, 1983) and other related disciplines. In fact, one of the major challenges to understanding career theory results from its situation between academic disciplines (Schein, 1986). This problem is further compounded when "each discipline happily develops its own concepts but does not feel obligated to connect them with the concepts that flow from other disciplines" (Schein, 1986, pp. 315-316).
Recently, the counseling and vocational theorists have considered theory convergence (see Savickas & Lent, 1994a). …