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Core Projects

The Center’s approach is to conduct a scientifically rigorous set of randomized control trial and quasi-experimental studies that look across the employment lifecycle: (1) enhancing employment re-engagement, (2) enhancing employment, and (3) enhancing job quality and retention. Studies examine federal, regional, state, and private industry policies and programs to identify critical outcomes and impacts that improve employment entry options, better wage and income levels, worker retention and job quality and benefits, career growth and paths to economic stability, employment reengagement in the event of job loss and reduced dependence on Social Security disability benefits.




Stream One: Employment Re-engagement. Millions of individuals with disabilities become dislocated from work due to increasing severity of disability and/or new medical conditions. As a result this group of individuals become connected to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) as both an income support and a source of other critical public benefits such as health care (Maestas, 2019). In challenging economic times, they are also more likely than people without disabilities to be laid off and receive Unemployment Insurance (UI) (Maestas). But they often have the potential to make a successful return to the workforce. The three research studies in this area examine the enhancement of opportunities for this return, examining and extending: (1) policies that promote a successful return to work from SSDI, including the impact of the Affordable Care Act, state investments in home-and community-based services, changes in state vocational rehabilitation policies, and the 1619(b) work incentive program; (2) policies to improve benefits counseling integrated with coaching that are predicted to significantly promote a return to work from SSDI; and (3) given that people with disabilities face a greater likelihood of being laid off, policies to enhance temporary increases in UI resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly examination of the important role that UI can have in helping people with disabilities sustain income and be able to return to employment.

Stream Two: Gaining Employment. As previously stated, people with disabilities confront obstacles in obtaining employment, including stereotypes, discrimination, insufficient accommodation, and lack of best practices, as well as in obtaining competitively meaningful “good” jobs. The three research studies for this area consider: (1) expansion of the work activities of people with disabilities in the gig economy, who often have insecure contingent or non-standard jobs, and how effective policy can improve this situation; (2) expansion of non-traditional routes to employment, such as in Disability-Owned Business Enterprises (“DOBEs”) as locally-based suppliers to corporations and governments, and to create niche opportunities for people with disabilities to demonstrate their abilities; and (3) expansion of proven apprenticeships, which is a core path to employment presently of renewed importance to promote economic advancement and employment for people with disabilities.

Stream Three: Job Quality and Retention. Even when people with disabilities obtain employment, they encounter challenges that can make it difficult to earn a living wage above poverty levels, and retain employment. The three research studies are: (1) impact of increased wages of people with disabilities as a result of state policy that raised minimum wage rates above the federal level, and/or eliminated subminimum wage levels for people with significant disabilities; (2) expansion of how paid leave benefits people with disabilities and helps them retain employment, particularly paid sick leave, and paid family and medical leave; and (3) expansion of telework and remote work as triggered by the COVID-19 crisis, with the importance and effects of home-based work for people with disabilities, who are already more likely than those without disabilities to work from home, and who can reap the benefits of flexible scheduling, individualized accommodations and “natural” supports (Blanck, 2020).

These rigorous policy projects of the DIEP RRTC will use randomized control trial and quasi-experimental research methods to examine policies at multiple levels–federal, regional, state, and private industry–to promote and advance employment outcomes for people with disabilities across the employment life cycle. Knowledge translation tools and methods will: (1) positively in real-time impact employment outcomes, particularly for underserved and intersectional target populations; (2) uniquely inform public and private employment policy at all levels—national, regional, state, and local—based on present and future needs; and (3) contribute to development, maintenance, and sustaining post-pandemic workforce and workplaces that are inclusive and better reflect the policy objectives for skills and economic advancement to meet the needs of employees of all abilities, across the work and life courses.

There is no single policy solution that can solve all the challenges identified above. The selection and analysis of specific federal and state policy, interventions and impacts, the review and evaluation of multiple public and privately held data sets, and the design and implementation of quasi-experimental and randomized control trial studies will inform an evidence-based framework for post-pandemic disability inclusive employment policy development. The DIEP RRTC will create knowledge for policy integration by all targeted audiences for unified and integrated knowledge to action activities that changes thinking, expectations, and behaviors at an individual and systems level.