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Disability Action Center NW

Workplace personal assistance services for people with disabilities: making productive employment possible

In the United States people with disabilities represent the nation’s largest minority and a considerable, largely untapped pool of labor. According to the 2006 American Community Survey data, a disability prevalence rate among adults of ages 21 to 64 years was 12.9% (Cornell University StatsRRTC, 2007; Wells, 2008). In 2006, the employment rate of all people with disabilities continued to be below 38% (Cornell University StatsRRTC; Hernandez & McDonald, 2007). In 2005, there were approximately 21.5 million working-age people with disabilities in the U.S. Of those, about 13.3 million were not employed and 8.2 million were employed. Of those 8.2 million working-age people with disabilities who were employed, only approximately 1.8 million were working full-time (Lengnick-Hall, Gaunt, & Kulkarni, 2008). If the U.S. aims at increasing its future labor supply, the nation should devote effort to mobilize people with disabilities to join the competitive job market (Ozawa & Yeo, 2006; Pelkowski, 2007).

In American culture, work is a socially esteemed activity for any person with or without a disability. To be an important part of an integrated employment setting, many people with disabilities need support services (Wehman, 2003). One resource for such support is the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). JAN provides a nationwide service for all entities interested in employment of people with disabilities. JAN consultants offer expert guidance to employers, service providers, persons with disabilities, and others who make possible the employment and retention of workers with disabilities (http://www.jan.wvu.edu).

Proper job accommodations (e.g., ergonomic equipment modifications, adaptive and assistive technology, special lighting, flexible schedule, sign-language interpreters, personal assistants, and job coaches) are indispensable for maximizing the employment among individuals with disabilities (Williams, Sabata, & Zolna, 2006). One of the forms of accommodation for people with disabilities who need help with activities of daily living (ADLs) such as eating, dressing, grooming, and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) such as shopping, house cleaning, paying bills, or using telephone is Personal Assistance Services (PAS) (Benjamin, 2001). Personal assistance is effective in helping people with disabilities in their ADLs and IADLs (Meng et al., 2006).

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