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Work Status Trends for People with Mental Retardation, FY 1985 to FY 1998

Research to Practice 25


Originally published: 12/2000

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Over the past 15 years there have been three crucial amendments to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that have increased the employment opportunities for people with mental retardation. These include the implementation of Title VI-C funds for supported employment along with supported employment systems change grants in 1986, and the 1992 Amendments that placed an emphasis on employment of people with severe disabilities as well as streamlining the rehabilitation process. With passage of the Workforce Investment Act in 1998 the Rehabilitation Act has again been amended with continuing emphasis on employment as an outcome for all people receiving services and a mandate of partnership with generic employment services under the One-Stop system. This brief presents state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency outcomes spanning the period between 1985 and 1998 for people with mental retardation and provides a basis for future analysis. For comparison, the work status of people with disabilities other than mental retardation (over 190,000 in 1998) will be included.

The data for this fact sheet have been compiled from the Rehabilitation Services Administration national data collection system, the RSA-911 database. This database contains demographic and employment information on each individual whose case was closed by VR each year, across the nation. Closures can be separated into 3 general categories:

In 1998:

Graph: All VR Closures (Excluding People with MR)

1985: 170,370 people in Competitive Employment, 13,716 people in Extended Employment
1991: 164,131 people in Competitive Employment, 10,894 people in Extended Employment
1998: 194,623 people in Competitive Employment, 7,628 people in Extended Employment


All inferences are based on repeated measures analysis of variance using data from fiscal years 85, 88, 91, 93, 95, and 98 aggregated to the state level. The categories of competitive and extended employment represent over 98% of successful closures for people with mental retardation and will be the outcomes discussed here.

Work Status For All VR Closures Excluding People With Mental Retardation During FY1985 - 1998:

Competitive and Extended Employment Closures For People with Mental Retardation, FY1985-1998:

Three graphs: Competitive and Extended Employment Closures for People with Mental Retardation, FY 1985-1998

Persons with Mild Mental Retardation

1985: 12,996 people in Competitive Employment, 3,230 people in Extended Employment
1991: 12,431 people in Competitive Employment, 2,081 people in Extended Employment
1998: 15,049 people in Competitive Employment, 1,456 people in Extended Employment

Persons with Moderate Mental Retardation

1985: 4,891 people in Competitive Employment, 3,233 people in Extended Employment
1991: 6,599 people in Competitive Employment, 2,829 people in Extended Employment
1998: 7,816 people in Competitive Employment, 1,720 people in Extended Employment

Persons with Severe Mental Retardation

1985: 563 people in Competitive Employment, 1,268 people in Extended Employment
1991: 1,058 people in Competitive Employment, 1,046 people in Extended Employment
1998: 1,065 people in Competitive Employment, 633 people in Extended Employment

Future Challenges

This analysis has shown positive trends in employment patterns for people with mental retardation, including an increased number of people entering competitive jobs and a decreased number of extended employment closures. While the percentage of people with mental retardation being placed into extended employment is still significant, especially for people with moderate and severe mental retardation, the data show that substantial progress has been made. RSA recently proposed a rule change that further strengthens its commitment to integrated employment. Under the proposed rule only outcomes in which an individual works in an integrated setting would be counted as an employment outcome (Federal Register, 6/26/2000). The elimination of extended employment as a successful rehabilitation outcome is a strong statement of RSA priorities.

Improved access to generic employment and training services can also expand access to competitive employment. One of the intents of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) is to better meet the needs of people with disabilities via generic employment and training services through local One-Stop Centers. WIA will hopefully result in expansion of service options and choices for people with disabilities, not only as a result of the mandated partnership of VR as part of the One-Stop system, but through the availability of a wide range of other non-disability specific services that are part of WIA and the One-Stop system. These data along with future data from the Department of Labor and studies focusing on the use of One-Stop services by people with disabilities, provide a basis to study the impact of such changes.

This document was supported in part by cooperative agreement No. 90DN0032 from the Administration on Developmental Disabilities, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration on Developmental Disabilities policy. For a publications brochure, contact: Institute for Community Inclusion, University of Massachusetts Boston, 100 Morrissey Boulevard, Boston, MA 02125. (617) 287-4300 voice; (617) 287-4350 TTY; ici@umb.edu

More facts, figures, and findings in Vocational Rehabilitation Outcomes for People with Mental Retardation, Cerebral Palsy, and Epilepsy: An Analysis of Trends from 1985;1998

This publication will be made available in alternate formats upon request.