Researchers help people with disabilities raise employment expectations

Mike Krings

LAWRENCE — After completing schoolwork, individuals with disabilities may be directed to a life of sheltered employment or a group home setting. University of Kansas researchers have been battling that type of guidance by proving that it is possible for individuals with disabilities to hold meaningful employment and live independently. Those researchers are sharing resources and training community members to spread the message, and now, they’re taking it to other states.

The Family Employment Awareness Training, also known as FEAT, has helped individuals and families in Kansas improve their expectations about employment since 2010. Rhode Island contracted with the program, housed in KU’s Beach Center on Disability, late last year, following a Department of Justice consent decree that the state was not providing equitable employment opportunities for all residents. Roughly 10 other states have shown interest as well. The program was born from a Medicaid Infrastructure Grant.

“Expectations for employment after finishing school were pretty low. They thought that was unacceptable and we needed to do something about it to help people realize that employment is possible and there are resources to help make it happen,” said Judith Gross, assistant research professor in the Beach Center on Disability and director of FEAT.

Even when families and individuals were determined to achieve meaningful employment, it was often challenging as resources were decentralized and difficult to find. Supported living resources, employment coaching, housing services, personal assistant services and other resources are commonly found in different offices and agencies, so it can be difficult for families to access, if they know they exist at all, Gross said.

To address the problem, FEAT offers a two-part workshop in communities throughout the state. FEAT is based on three simple principles:

  • Everyone with a disability can work when provided with the appropriate support and services
  • Everyone with a disability can have a job that is both enjoyable and satisfying
  • Everyone with a disability will make more money working than by relying on public benefits alone.