Psychiatric Versus Physical Disabilities: A Comparison of Barriers and Facilitators to Employment

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Objective: Guided by the social model of disability (Nagi, 1965), this study aims to better identify barriers to and facilitators of employment for individuals with psychiatric disabilities and how these factors may differ for individuals with physical disabilities. Method: Our analysis uses data from the Survey of Disability and Employment on 2,148 individuals with psychiatric disabilities, physical disabilities, or both who in 2014 applied for services from 1 of 3 state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies. We identify type of disability based on respondents’ open-ended descriptions of their impairments. We use univariate statistics and multivariate regression estimates to compare employment history, and potential barriers to and facilitators of employment between individuals with psychiatric and physical disabilities. Results: VR applicants with psychiatric disabilities have had longer periods of nonemployment than individuals with physical disabilities alone. They are significantly more likely than individuals with physical disabilities alone to report nonhealth reasons, such as getting fired and lacking skills, as barriers to employment. We found that a number of accommodations, including flexible schedules and modified work duties, are significantly associated with continued employment. Conclusions and Implications for Practice: VR counselors should be aware that although most applicants with psychiatric disabilities place a great deal of importance on being employed, they face additional barriers to employment.

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