Few options for job seekers with disabilities

U. KANSAS (US)—Two major federal programs to assist the unemployed have inadequacies in aiding people with physical or mental health impairments, new research shows.

The study—published recently in the Career Development Quarterly—focused on the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, which requires recipients to find employment within two years, and the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, which led to the establishment of “One-Stop” centers to cluster services for the unemployed.

“The biggest problem is that these are one-size-fits-all programs,” says Jean Hall, associate research professor at the University of Kansas. “People with disabilities, because they are a smaller subset, don’t get the kind of services they need. They are lost in the system.”

The insufficiency of the programs is striking because about 63 percent of Americans with disabilities are unemployed. Moreover, 29 percent of TANF benefit recipients nationwide have physical or mental health impairments, compared to 11 percent of the population not receiving TANF benefits.

Yet counselors for the unemployed lack the training necessary to help clients with disabilities.

“When we spoke with the service providers who work in these centers they expressed a level of discomfort working with people with disabilities,” Hall says. “They really did desire training to learn how to do that better. It’s a matter of a comfort level and availability of training or information that they don’t have.”

Hall says people with disabilities often face barriers to employment, including resume gaps due to illness, the need for special workplace accommodations, and attitudes about disabilities.

“What we found is that people with disabilities who are in these systems, whether it’s welfare or trying to find a job, experience low self-esteem,” Hall says. “When they go into a center, the staff at the center is not well-prepared to address their particular needs. That response reinforces their feelings of disempowerment—that the system is not really there to help them.”

The researchers found job seekers with disabilities often experienced “an endless loop” without finding gainful employment through the center.

More news from the University of Kansas: www.news.ku.edu/