The Impact of Employment Goals and Settings on People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

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Research Summary


To determine the impact of employment goals and appropriate work settings on employment outcomes for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, researchers reviewed 12,706 case studies of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who received vocational rehabilitation services in 25 states. These states had all passed Employment first legislation or had administrative directives or executive orders propelling Employment First. They also examined policy and practice procedures of systems that assist and support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in employment. They did this in response to the disproportionately low number of people with disabilities who have an employment goal or no paid employment. Research has shown that adults with even severe disabilities are often able to have successful careers and be self-sufficient. But, many of these people are un- or under-employed and living in poverty. This study explains some of the reasons for this and offers solutions for change.

Key Findings

  • 22.2% of cases reviewed included an employment goal.
  • 65.6% of cases reviewed did not result in paid employment.
  • Individuals with an employment goal were 11 times more likely to be employed in an individual community setting than those who didn’t.
  • Research participants expressed a desire to work in the community, similar to the general population.
  • Those who could verbally communicate without assistance had significantly higher chances of having an employment goal.
  • Every increased level of intellectual or developmental disability reduces the odds of individuals having an employment goal by an average of 41%.
  • People with the most significant levels of intellectual and developmental disability had almost a 0% chance of having an employment goal.

    Put It Into Practice


    Tips and tools to help you apply best practices at work.

    • Assist in establishing an employment goal in the service plans of people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
    • Encourage integrated community employment and implement supported employment services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
    • Educate the guardians of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities of the importance of having an employment goal so they don’t inadvertently create barriers.
    • Advocate for impartial access to individual community employment for all people regardless of the level of their intellectual or developmental disability.

    More About This Research

    Researchers used the 2012-2013 National Core Indicator (NCI) Adult Consumer Survey in the policy and practice procedure examination portion of this study.

    Learn More

    Nord, D.; Hamre, K.; Pettingell, S.; & Magiera, L. (2018). Employment Goals and Settings: Effects of Individual and Systemic Factors. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 43 (3), 194-206.