Some with Severe Mental Disability Work
People with intellectual disabilities, autism, or schizophrenia have high rates of unemployment. But a new study finds that some can find part-time or even full-time jobs with the help of coaches funded by the government.
Having a coach doesn’t guarantee that a person with a disability will get a job. But in a 2019 study, the people who received this support “were significantly more likely to become employed” than those who did not get the help, according to researchers for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.
To get and keep these jobs requires a lot of personal attention. The federal-state Vocational Rehabilitation program provides coaches – often at non-profits – who find the right jobs for their clients and then act as a liaison to smooth out the bumps and guide the employer-employee relationship.
Because the cognitive disabilities of the individuals in the study varied so much, the researchers broke them out into nine groups, based on their specific disabilities, education levels, and likelihood of benefitting from the program. In all but one of the nine groups, the people who received support had significantly higher employment rates than those who did not receive the help.
Between a third and half of the people with coaching support had a job, the researchers found. Among the people who did not receive any support, employment rates were as low as one in four.
Two groups in particular benefited. One was young adults who received Social Security disability benefits – their average age was 19, which is when people often enter the full-time labor force. The other group was high school graduates with autism or an intellectual disability.
But the researchers note that even with help from a coach, people with intellectual disabilities, autism, and schizophrenia still have much lower employment rates than the general population.
To read this study, authored by Fong Chan and John Kregel, see “Supported Employment for People with Intellectual Disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Schizophrenia.”
The research reported herein was derived in whole or in part from research activities performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA, any agency of the federal government, or Boston College. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, make any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.
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Increasing employment of those with severe mental disabilities is encouraging. With the very low unemployment here (until the COVID-19 lockdown), employers may be eager to find more good employees, even if some accommodation may be needed. Employer accommodation should add to the jobs made available by coaching. Ideally the two processes would work together, with the coaching taking into account the accommodation available, and the accommodation adjusting to what coaching achieves.
Unfortunately, less than 20% of children and adolescents with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need. Early mental health support can help a child before problems interfere with other developmental needs. Fact: The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%–5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population. You probably know someone with a mental health problem and don't even realize it, because many people with mental health problems are highly active and productive members of our communities.