New ESRI Research Highlights Strong Interest in Employment Among People with a Disability

A new research report addressing the employment and educational experiences of working-age people with a disability was published today (Thursday, 16 July 2015) by the ESRI. Educational and Employment Experiences of People with a Disability in Ireland: An Analysis of the National Disability Survey, was funded by the National Disability Authority and prepared by Dorothy Watson, Seán Lyons and Joanne Banks (ESRI).

The report finds that people with a disability are more likely than the general population to be poor and depend on social welfare payments for their income. An important reason for their economic disadvantage is the difficulty they have in gaining employment or retaining employment. Since education has a key influence on job prospects and earnings, those affected by their disability in childhood may face particular challenges.

Educational Experiences

About 30% of people with disabilities were affected during their school or college years, as most disability is acquired in adulthood. Most of those with intellectual and learning disabilities, however, were affected from birth or childhood. People who were affected by their disability during their school years tended to have lower levels of educational qualifications than the wider population. Their odds of completing second level were just three quarters of those whose disability developed in later life. About 17% of people with disabilities missed some time in school because of their disability and 15% left school sooner than they would have liked.

Disability and Employment

Most working-age people with a disability have worked at some point. At the time of the survey, over a quarter (29%) were currently working and a further 56% had worked in the past.
The greatest level of non-employment was found among those with poor health, low stamina or with emotional, psychological and mental health (EPMH) disability.  People with intellectual disability also experienced a relatively high level of non-employment, partly because of their lower levels of education.

There were two different types of challenge when it came to employment of people with a disability. The first affected those whose disability emerged early in life and for them the main challenge was in getting the first job (younger adults, people with intellectual or speech disability, people affected during their school years). The second type of challenge affected those whose disability emerged later. For this group the main challenge was connected with having to leave work because of their disability: older adults, people with an EPMH disability, pain disability and those with health or stamina problems.


Factors Facilitating Employment

What was striking in the analysis was the high level of interest in working among those people with a disability who were not employed at the time: nearly half said they would be interested in working if the circumstances were right.

The statistical analysis suggests that there is some link between unmet needs for access to assistive technology and therapy services and the likelihood of not being in work for those with mobility and pain disabilities.

The study looked at what people with a disability reported needing in order to be able to work. Flexible work arrangements, such as reduced hours, were identified by 46%, modified job tasks by 29% and accessibility modifications by 32%. One in four also said they would need a wage subsidy.  A statistical model indicated that people were more likely to say they needed a wage subsidy if they also reported unmet needs for services or devices, if they had lower levels of education and if they had a higher level of difficulty associated with the disability.

Policy Implications

A number of different policy strategies are important to the employment of people with a disability.

·          Helping those whose disability emerges in the school years to continue in education.

·          Provision of lifelong learning opportunities geared to the needs of people with intellectual and learning disability – the group most likely to be affected in the school years – and also to the needs of people whose disability emerges later in life.

·          Helping people whose disability emerges after their working life has already begun to stay in employment. Employers are the key actors here, but there is a role for public policy in providing information, training and, where needed, supplements to income.

·          Income subsidies to compensate for the extra costs of services and aids needed by people with a disability and to compensate for the reduced earning capacity linked to low levels of education or to the need for reduced working hours.

Lead author Dorothy Watson said “There is a high level of interest in employment among people with a disability, with over half of them either at work at the time of the survey or interested in working.”

Responding to the report findings Siobhan Barron, Director of the National Disability Authority, said:

“This research highlights the importance of a joined up approach to ensuring people with disabilities can access employment opportunities and pursue careers, an approach that crosses Departmental boundaries to address education, employment supports, health supports, and incomes at work.”

For further Information please contact:
Dorothy Watson, Associate Research Professor, The Economic and Social Research Institute