Research Insights on Advancing Integrated Employment for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

October 27, 2017

According to the National Core Indicators (2015-2016), people with disabilities want to work, and both state and federal policy emphasize work as a priority for public supports. However, only 14% of individuals served by state intellectual and developmental disability agencies work in individual integrated jobs. According to the ICI National Survey of State IDD Agency Day and Employment Services, over the past several years participation in facility-based work (sheltered work) has declined, but has been offset by an increase in in non-work programs. Participation in integrated employment services has remained relatively flat.

ACL’s research arm, the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), is working to increase the body of evidence-based practices and programs that help promote integrated employment for people with a variety of disabilities. One NIDILRR grantee, the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) Program on Advancing Employment for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, is conducting four projects to research employment, test interventions for improving outcomes for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and share this knowledge for widespread use.

Individual and Family Engagement

The first project focuses on providing knowledge and support for individuals and their families. The goal is to create a comprehensive information, outreach, and support framework that enables access to employment information.

Research shows that young adults expect to work, and working-age adults want to work. Preliminary research using online focus groups and forums for families found that they have low expectations from the systems that are supposed to connect them to employment-related information. They receive confusing guidance and navigating the systems -- which lack capacity to meet needs -- is difficult. The challenges are so great that some families say they are more successful working on their own.

The RRTC researchers are working with 100 families to test an engagement strategy to address these issues. The strategy includes information and referral to services available to families, as well as direct assistance with planning for employment, using the “Build Your Future” tool developed by the Center for Future Planning at The Arc. The project communicates regularly with the families to provide encouragement, and a private Facebook group facilitates peer support between the families.

Employment Support Practices

The second project focuses on increasing the effectiveness of employment consultants, who are charged with a number of tasks to support successful long-term employment, such as helping people find employment, recruiting employers and setting up appropriate supports. The project’s goal is to establish a cost-effective strategy for improving the implementation of employment-support practices through integrating online training, data-based performance feedback, and facilitated peer supports.

Promoting Change Among Community Rehabilitation Providers

The third project concentrates on building capacity and support for community rehabilitation providers (CRP) to embrace and implement an Employment First focus. Research has found that only 9% of CRP staff are dedicated to employment, and that direct support staff experience confusion about their roles and feel unprepared to help. The project will develop a model framework and toolkit to help rehabilitation providers transform their organizations to employ an Employment First focus.

Aligning Policy and Practice Across State Agencies

Intellectual and developmental disabilities agency often have completing priorities, and their employment-related outcomes vary widely. The fourth project is working to identify practices and policies that lead to cross-agency collaboration and resource integration, and ultimately to improved employment outcomes for the people served by the agencies. The researchers have developed a secondary data analysis process to evaluate data from multiple research projects to identify higher performing state systems. Those systems will be documented as case studies as a resource for other states.


Research plays an important role in understanding best practices and lessons learned towards applying these insights to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities across the country. ACL’s research programs are working to find evidence-based solutions and encourage implementation to help people with disabilities achieve and maintain successful integrated employment.

Learn more about the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Advancing Employment for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, their research projects, and products.

ACL’s research arm, NIDILRR, funds other work researching employment of people with other types of disabilities and related topics. Learn more about these activities and related resources.

Last modified on 05/07/2020

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