Factors Contributing to Employment Success Among African Americans with Disabilities

African Americans with chronic illnesses and disabilities face a formidable challenge in the employment arena. Only 22% of working-age (persons aged 16 to 64) African Americans with disabilities are in the labor force (i.e., employed or seeking employment), and only 16% are actually working (Bowe, 1985, 1991; Alston & Mngadi, 1992). This leaves the vast majority not working or seeking work. While some persons cannot work because of the limitations of a chronic illness or disability, most want to work and in fact have the ability to work productively.

Factors that facilitate (or impede) employment are an important area of investigation and are the scope of this chapter. Work (or the lack of it) affects the quality of life across several dimensions. In this country, work is tied to self-worth, self-esteem, and feelings of accomplishment. Work impacts interpersonal and social relationships within the home and the community. Perhaps most importantly, having a job determines whether or not one has a basic standard of living with adequate food, shelter, and medical care. For African Americans, people with disabili-

The author would like to thank Dr. Sylvia Walker at the Howard University Research & Training Center for Access to Rehabilitation and Economic Opportunity for her support of this research. The research was funded by the National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research in a grant to Howard University (Dr. Sylvia Walker, Principal Investigator).

ties, and other oppressed groups, employment is especially important. Work is a mechanism for gaining equity and control in one's life. Because of the central role that employment plays, this chapter is devoted to a better understanding of factors that contribute to employment success. Chapters 7 and 8 discuss strategies I have used with colleagues to improve employability among African Americans with disabilities.

In this chapter, research conducted by the author and colleagues on factors related to employment success among African Americans with disabilities is presented. This research was aimed at identifying factors that account for successful employment among African Americans with disabilities and chronic illnesses.

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