Earlier Research On Employment Outcomes

Two earlier studies are relevant to the research discussed in this chapter and are briefly reviewed. The findings from these studies pointed to several demographic, psychological, and sociological factors associated with employment among African Americans with disabilities (Belgrave & Walker, 1991a & b; Wilson, 1988).

Wilson (1988) conducted a qualitative study on critical factors in the employment success of African Americans with disabilities. He used a case study methodology to identify critical factors in the lives of successfully employed African Americans with disabilities.

Wilson identified seven successful African Americans. Data on these individuals were gathered from various publications and public source materials. Two of the individuals were born with impairments, two acquired disabilities during their teen years, and the other three acquired a disability in their adult years after being successfully employed as able-bodied persons. Three were impaired by blindness, one by dwarfism and the absence of hands and arms, one by amputations of both arms above the elbow, one by multiple sclerosis, and one by quadriplegia. The individuals were successfully employed as an executive director of a community program, a manager of a women's project, a rehabilitation administrator, a minister, a social worker, a community activist, and a director of community relations.

Extensive information was gathered and reviewed on these individuals. Key factors operative across all individuals are summarized below:

a. Career path.—Five of these individuals had a stable career path; the other two had a varied employment path but were successful in their careers.

b. Family background.—Six of the individuals came from family backgrounds that were intact. All of these individuals had the presence of at least one strong, highly moral parent. The work ethic was also present among families.

c. Self-concept or confidence.—All individuals were goal directed and had confidence in their abilities to achieve.

d. Religion or spirituality.—The majority used religion or spirituality as an orienting theme in their lives.

e. Realistic self-appraisal.—The disability experiences required that these individuals face reality and engage in adaptive problemsolving solutions. These individuals had good coping mechanisms for dealing with frustration. All had potential mobility or transportation problems but learned how to meet their needs for getting around.

f. Understands and copes effectively with devaluation.—These individuals did not focus on racism or handicapism and when it occurred knew how to deal with it.

g. Preference for long-term goals.—These individuals had a preference for long-term goals that provided them with tenacity as they moved through the rehabilitation process.

h. Availability of strong support.—These individuals all needed, accepted, and benefited from support. Support was in the form of positive regard and acceptance, information, treatment, and opportunities for development and employment.

i. Demonstrated leadership.—All persons were leaders in some aspect and were recognized for this leadership.

j. Demonstrated community service.—All individuals provided services to various communities.

k. Sharing of knowledge.—All individuals shared their special knowledge and expertise with others.

Wilson's research made an important contribution to understanding employment issues because it demonstrated that African Americans with disabilities could be very successful. Moreover, Wilson focused on identifying strengths rather than deficits. And by including only successful subjects in the case study, his research focused on success rather than failure. However, the findings from this study are limited because of the methodology. Only seven persons were selected for the case study. Moreover, since Wilson relied upon published documents and public information on these persons, these individuals would probably be considered noteworthy and exceptional. There are thousands of African Americans with disabilities and chronic illnesses who are productive at work, earn a decent living, and contribute to society. These ordinary individuals would not be in the public eye. What factors motivate successful employment among these individuals?

Belgrave and Walker (1991a & b) conducted a study on predictors of employment status among African Americans with disabilities. They were interested in identifying psychological and demographic factors that were related to whether or not a person was employed. Seven variables were tested: social support, self-esteem, locus of control, perception of disability severity, acceptance of disability, availability of transportation, and education.

Participants in the Belgrave and Walker study were 75 African Americans with disabilities who ranged in age from 21 to 45. Disabilities included vision and hearing impairments, orthopedic impairments, kidney failure, cardiovascular and respiratory impairments, and spinal cord injury. Data were collected from participants through a questionnaire or interview that contained measures of the variables of interest. Thirty-two percent were employed, and 68% were not employed.

A discriminate analysis was conducted to determine which variables significantly discriminated between those who were employed and unemployed. The results of this analysis revealed that two variables significantly discriminated the employed from the not-employed group. These variables were transportation source and social support. Employed respondents were more likely to own or have access to cars or other privately owned vehicles and use these for transportation. Unemployed respondents were more likely to use public transportation such as bus or train as their primary mode of transportation. The relationship between employment and vehicle ownership is circular. Employed persons are more likely than unemployed persons to be able to afford a vehicle, and having a vehicle probably facilitates finding and keeping a job.

The perception of the availability of social support was also a significant discriminator between those who were employed and unemployed. Employed persons were more likely than nonemployed persons to feel that social support was available when needed.

The research by Wilson (1988) and Belgrave and Walker (1991a & b) provided a preliminary understanding of factors that may contribute to whether or not African Americans with disabilities are employed. However, these studies were limited in terms of methodology and the conceptualization of the predictor and the outcome variables. As noted, in the Wilson study only individuals who were successfully employed and notable in their field were included. In the Belgrave and Walker study, the outcome variable of employment status (i.e., whether or not the individual was working) was somewhat limited and did not consider other indicators of employment success such as attitudes toward employment. Attitudes toward work are important outcome variables in their own right. Positive attitudes toward employment are likely to increase efforts to find employment if unemployed and motivate the individual to remain employed. Among African Americans with disabilities, the vast majority are unemployed. Therefore, a first step may be to increase their attitudes regarding the value of work and their beliefs that they can find and maintain work. These outcomes were the focus of the intervention programs described in chapters 7 and 8.

A study on factors related to employment success among African Americans with disabilities was conducted to address some of the concerns of the previous studies. Employment success was conceptualized more comprehensively than in the other studies and two indicators of employment success were used. One, employment status, (i.e., whether or not the individual was actually employed) was an outcome that was similar to the one used in the previous study (Belgrave & Walker, 1991a & b). Two, ''attitudes toward employment'' was added as an additional outcome variable. Favorable work attitudes are likely to motivate the employed to continue working and motivate the unemployed to be persistent in their employment search. Another improvement in this study was in the conceptualization of the predictor variables. The selection of predictor variables in the Belgrave and Walker (1991a & b) study was not based on any one theoretical model, but a hodgepodge of factors hypothesized to affect employment based on a review of the literature. In this study the authors wanted to test whether one theoretical model could parsimoniously account for employment success.

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