A new study by Siperstein, Parker, and Drascher (2013) details very high unemployment rates for people with intellectual disabilities (ID). After completing a random sample of over 1,000 parents and guardians of adults with ID, Siperstein et al. found a “troublingly low employment rate for adults with ID;” only about 1 in 3 people with ID were employed.
It is important to not only examine how many people with ID have access to the workforce but also if that access is at all meaningful. According to Diament (2014) only about half of those one-third are in competitive employment and about 9% self-employed. Meanwhile, 38% work in sheltered workshops (Diament, 2014). Although sheltered employment was a cutting-edge concept when it was created in 1870; unfortunately the practices have changed very little since then (National Disability Rights Network, 2011). Workshops are viewed from an educational or therapeutic perspective but rarely if ever prepare employees for supported employment; “instead they provide subcontract work usually oversimplified, boring and repetitious” (Schuster, 1990, p. 233) such as “assembling, packing, woodworking, manufacturing, [and] sewing” (Migliore et al., 2007, p. 6).
Not only are people with ID segregated in these settings and not typically learning new skills they also tend to be paid sub-minimum wage (which can be only $1-$2 a day!). All of which restricts future movement to meaningful integrated employment leading many advocates to call for repeal of sub-minimum wage and promotion of integrated employment opportunities.
Diament, M. (2014). Survey finds just 1 In 3 with intellectual disabilities employed. Disability Scoop, retrieved from http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2014/02/18/survey-intellectual-employed/19114/
Migliore, A., Mank, D., Grossi, T., & Rogan, P. (2007). Integrated employment or sheltered workshops: Preferences of adults with intellectual disabilities, their families, and staff. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 26(5), 5-19.
National Disability Rights Network (2011). Segregated and exploited: The failure of the disability system to provide quality work (pp. 1-60). Washington, D.C.: National Disability Rights Network.
Schuster, J. W. (1990). Sheltered workshops: Financial and philosophical liabilities. Mental Retardation, 28(4), 233-239.
Siperstein, G., Parker, R., & Drascher, M. (2013) National snapshot of adults with intellectual disabilities in the labor force. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 39(3), 157-165.