National Snapshot of Adults with Intellectual Disabilities in the Labor Force

This research study documents the employment situation of working-aged adults with intellectual disabilities across the country. 

Gary N. Siperstein
Robin C. Parker
Max Drascher
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
University of Massachusetts Boston, Center for Social Development and Education
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

Employment has been recognized as an important goal for improving the quality of life of adults with intellectual disabilities (ID). Governments at both the federal and state level have invested billions of dollars to encourage better outcomes for adults with ID as they transition out of high school and into the labor force. Given these important efforts, this study documented the employment situation of working-aged adults with ID across the country. Respondents included a nationally representative random sample of 1,017 parents/guardians of adult children (21 years of age or older) with an ID surveyed by Gallup. These parents/guardians were selected from approximately 341,000 households screened by Gallup. This methodology allowed for the includsion of a sample of adults with ID who had never been in the labor force or even sought employment. The results indicate a troubling low employment rate for adults with ID and a puzzingly low number who are even in the labor force. The employment outlook for adults with ID will continue to be bleak until new ways are found to meaningfully incorporate this population into the labor force.

What the experts say

This report could be very useful in informing adult education as to how it can support the U.S. Department of Labor and other collaborations in providing post-secondary education programs for the intellectual disabled populations. In particular, the resource describes adults with intellectual disabilities who are underemployed and might benefit from adult education programs. Further, this resource would be useful for special education transition coordinators, rehabilitation counselors, and service providers.

This large survey study, 1,017 parents/guardians of adult children with intellectual disabilities, provides a thorough overview of the current status of employment for these individuals. The resource addresses a number of frameworks for evaluating employment for individuals with intellectual disabilities (e.g., sheltered settings/workshops, competitive inclusive employment, unemployment). The discussion is especially strong - integrating past and current research findings and disability and U.S. Department of Labor statistics to describe the current state of employment for individuals with intellectual disabilities. The measures section has a very good description of the methods used to gather data; however, it is important to remember the authors have highlighted the limitations of the survey and the variations among the states that influenced the data.

Adults with intellectual disabilities have been significantly underserved in workforce education and often not benefited from traditional adult education. This resource can help point the way for successful collaboration between work force education, the U.S. Department of Labor, and adult education.

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