Describes a study that builds upon an existing knowledge base and national snapshot about the employment situation of representative sample of adults with intellectual disabilities; and explains the survey methods used to understand present employment status, and the progress made over two decades, including labor force participation rates and other demographic information.

This study, published in the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation 39 (2013), summarizes employment and labor participation data about adults with intellectual disabilities (ID) as reported by their parents in a national phone survey conducted from 2011–2012. The authors frame the scope of the problem as the persistence in under- and un- employment among adults with disabilities: “During the period of 2008–2010 the estimated employment rate of adults with disabilities was extremely low, ranging from 39% to 34% compared with the much higher rates of 79% and 76% for individuals without a disability…Presently, the employment rate for adults with disabilities stands at 30%, in stark contrast to 76% for adults without disabilities...


The study “included a nationally representative random sample of 1,017 parents/guardians of adult children (21 years of age or older) with an intellectual disability surveyed by Gallup[, Inc.] These parents/guardians were selected from approximately 341,000 households screened by Gallup. This methodology allowed for the inclusion of a sample of adults with ID who had never been in the labor force or even sought employment” (p.157).


“To develop an instrument specific to the objectives of this study, a thorough review was conducted of the measures that have been used to describe the employment [situation] of adults with ID. From this review, questions were generated that addressed not only employment status and history, but also several other related areas including the nature of the disability, the presence of behavior problems, and present residence” (p.159).


(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)


Siperstein, G. N., Parker, R. C., & Drascher, M.  (2013). National snapshot of adults with intellectual disabilities in the labor force. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 39, 157-165.

Major Findings & Recommendations

The study shares the rates of employment and unemployment for adults with intellectual disabilities (ID). It also considers whether the adults are employed in a sheltered setting designed specifically for those with ID versus being competitively employed in the general labor market. For those adults with ID in the latter situation, the study provides additional detail on the fields in which they are employed. Specific findings include the following: “The employment rate of adults with ID aged 21–64 in the present sample was 34%...In comparison, in 2011 it was estimated that about three-quarters (76%) of working-age adults without disabilities were employed…Of great import in describing the employment of adults with ID is the setting. Of the adults with ID in the sample, 18% were competitively employed and 13% were employed in a sheltered setting…The remaining 3% were either self-employed or their employment setting was not categorized... The competitive employment among the adults with ID in the sample encompassed a wide breadth of occupational fields, including customer service (28%), retail (17%), restaurant work (16%), office work (9%), and manufacturing (8%)…Nearly all who were employed in a competitive setting (89%) were reportedly being paid around or above the minimum wage for their state. However, few (26%) were employed full-time. In comparison, it is estimated that about three-quarters (73%) of employed adults without disabilities are employed full-time…In addition, only a third of those competitively employed were offered health insurance from their place of employment” (p.161). “Unfortunately, despite efforts that have been made over the past two decades, adults with ID have not made much progress in terms of employment. In fact, the finding that most stands out in this national snapshot is that less than half of the working aged adults with ID…were in the labor force – that is, either currently employed or searching for work. Of those individuals who were not a part of the labor force, half had never worked, with most having never sought employment...[This] stands in stark contrast to the employment situation of working aged adults without disabilities where four out of five are in the labor force…The low labor force participation stems in part from the low rate of employment for adults with ID, but it also includes a puzzlingly low number of adults with ID who are presently looking for work” (p.163). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)