KU Research Supports Competitive, Integrated Employment for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
Research by KU scientists and others has long reinforced that career development opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities provide not only financial benefits, but improved physical and mental health, and better quality of life. Researchers also have established that with appropriate supports, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities can participate in competitive integrated employment.
Competitive, integrated employment, or CIE is defined in federal labor guidelines as:
- Compensated at or above minimum wage and comparable to the customary rate paid by the employer to employees without disabilities performing similar duties and with similar training and experience;
- Receiving the same level of benefits provided to other employees without disabilities in similar positions;
- At a location where the employee interacts with other individuals without disabilities; and
- Includes opportunities for advancement similar to those available to other employees
People with intellectual and developmental disabilities engage in competitive, integrated employment in universities, grocery stores, restaurants, retail settings, hospitals—any place where there is a mix of employees, and the individual is paid a competitive wage. While researchers have found that CIE offers the best health outcomes and quality of life, the challenge for many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is having equal access to this kind of employment.
Nationwide, including in Kansas, employers who hold a 14(c) certificate from the U.S. Department of Labor are allowed to pay workers with disabilities less than what is mandated by law for other workers. Used in segregated settings, sometimes called “sheltered workshops,” the exemption allows an organization to pay people with intellectual and developmental disabilities sub-market wages often for light assembly or manufacturing tasks.
“Despite having ‘work’ in the name, sheltered workshops are not competitive, integrated employment because people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are segregated and do not make at or above minimum wage and have opportunities for advancement,” said Karrie Shogren, director of the Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities. “The goal is to create opportunities and supports that advance competitive, integrated employment.”
In a study co-authored by Shogren, based on the experiences of people employed in Rhode Island, about 50 percent of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities worked in segregated settings after the transition from high school. However, the best predictor of competitive, integrated employment over time was previous experiences in that kind of employment, rather than sheltered workshops or other non-work settings or activities.
That suggests that ongoing supported employment and transition services are essential to continued competitive, integrated employment during a person’s lifetime, Shogren said.
“KUCDD supports the right of all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to competitive, integrated employment and is actively engaged in research to develop and implement research-based practices to support competitive integrated employment,” Shogren said.
KUCDD is working on several projects that explore employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They include work to test a career design model, delivered virtually across the state, that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to set and work toward self-determined career goals.
“People with disabilities often do not get the support they need to obtain competitive, integrated employment,” said Evan Dean, associate director of KUCDD, when the project was announced in 2021. “In some cases, after the transition from school to the adult world, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities go years without access to necessary services or supports. We’re working to make changes for those individuals and to train facilitators across the state to improve access and support for their career development.”