Research Will Offer Career Development Assistance for Kansans with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Two men looking at a tablet screen in a workshop

A new federally funded grant may help Kansans with intellectual and developmental disabilities while expanding the capacity of local communities throughout the state to support those individuals in their career development. The program will test a career design model, delivered virtually, about setting and working toward self-determined career goals.

Researchers in the Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities, a part of the Life Span Institute, earned a three-year, $600,000 grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research to deliver assistance via telehealth to Kansans with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Testing the delivery of the interventions via telehealth is timely not only because of the pandemic, but also because it extends delivery options in rural areas.

The intervention, called the Self-Determined Career Design Model, or SDCDM, is delivered by trained facilitators and supports people with disabilities to set career goals based on their strengths, interests and previous work experiences. Once goals are set, the model empowers people with disabilities to apply problem-solving skills to advance employment and career goals and identify needed supports. The model also includes a self-reflection phase to evaluate progress and to update plans as necessary, building skills and abilities.

“People with disabilities often do not get the support they need to obtain competitive, integrated employment,” said Evan Dean, primary investigator for the project and associate director for the KU Center on Developmental Disabilities. “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.”

Building capacity

Based on the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction, which KU researchers have shown to be effective at supporting people with disabilities to reach education and career goals, the SDCDM will work with adults who may not have had access to such services previously. Researchers will conduct a randomized controlled trial to determine the efficacy of the intervention.

Currently, the researchers are recruiting participants and facilitators across Kansas. Participants will be engaged in the project for up to two years. By training facilitators to deliver the SDCDM across the state, the hope is that after the three-year research project, the model will be sustained in communities.

“This is a way that we can build capacity in local communities to support the careers of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities going forward,” Dean said.

Expanding Opportunities

While the telehealth model was planned prior to the pandemic to help reach rural areas, COVID-19 further highlighted the importance of technology in delivering career design interventions. Researchers said building family and community partnerships to ensure sustainable employment opportunities and self-reflection pieces are valuable as well.

“We all grow in our careers as we learn more and gain skills, and it is valuable to reflect on that, especially with support from families and communities, so self-reflection is a big part of this model,” Dean said.

Karrie Shogren, director of the KU Center on Developmental Disabilities and co-principal investigator for the project, and Dean said they anticipated the study will help boost employment and self-determination of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Ultimately, it may enhance cost-effectiveness by delivering the intervention via telehealth and establish best practices in using telehealth to deliver community-based employment interventions for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The project will develop effective ways to support competitive, integrated employment outcomes. Adults with disabilities have not had access to supports for competitive integrated employment and instead been limited to either no supports or segregated options that provide sub-minimum wages. Shogren and colleagues have long been involved in research and consultation with states to end those practices. Supporting people with intellectual disability to achieve competitive, integrated employment has benefits for individuals and communities, including increased income and reduced demand for services.

“This project focuses on researching effective practices for career design and self-determination,” Shogren said. “We’re working to find effective ways to move beyond trying to just get people a job, but instead planning with people to self-determine what they want their career and future to be.”

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