Employing Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities: Seeking Views of Tennessee Employers

By Brian Valentini

About the Author

Brian Valentini is a research associate with TennesseeWorks at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center. He is a graduate of the San Diego State University and Claremont Graduate University joint doctoral program. In his spare time, Brian enjoys the outdoors and running marathons. He can be contacted at brian.valentini@vanderbilt.edu.

Our hope is that this weekly blog will offer information you want to know, so if you have a question you want answered about employment for people with disabilities or other mysteries of the world of work, please email me at janet.shouse@vumc.org.

After I first made the decision to move from San Diego to Nashville, I began making immediate preparations. At the top of my list was an epic road trip from my home by the beach, into the mountains heading north, then due east coming down through the valley and into the heartland. Time permitted stops in such places such as Yosemite National Park and the Grand Tetons. At the time, I was completing my fifth straight year of graduate school. Prior to this, I had been a special education teacher in New York City. So, to say money was tight is an understatement.  My savings was gone. Student loans were no longer an option. Moreover, debt was mounting with outrageous interest rates.

There is no irony with my previous lifestyle and current career path. Five years of part-time work and struggling to get by led me to an understanding that employment means so much more than the monetary resources needed for the next big purchase. Employment provides self-esteem, belonging, purpose, and all those intangibles not written on a paycheck. This is one reason I found TennesseeWorks so attractive and decided to move across the country to take a position with the team. It is a partnership working tirelessly to improve outcomes for those most at need. One such partnership is examining views of Tennessee employers.

Currently, we are recruiting all those involved in making the hiring decision at all Tennessee businesses. This includes managers, HR representatives, small business owners, and more. Our aim is to capture the thoughts, attitudes, and resources needed to hire an individual with an intellectual or developmental disability. Our goal of this research is to provide free comprehensive resources to businesses everywhere. It is our hope that by better understanding how employers think and feel about hiring people with disabilities, we can better streamline the hiring process for individuals with intellectual disabilities. The implication of this project is significant and reaches many populations.

Resources for employers could take many forms. If the results call for it, resources could be conferences, professional development, trainings, PowerPoints, and more. Teachers in transition settings (teaching students with disabilities who are 18 to 22 years old) could also benefit from such survey results by taking the valuable insight of employers and applying it to partnerships in community-based classrooms. Furthermore, teachers could use this information to assist in transition planning as students prepare to move from the world of school to the world of work. Similarly, students currently in transition settings could be better prepared by knowing what employers desire from them. Finally, we hope to further our field of research by sharing the knowledge gained, through publications.

The current plan is calling for further recruitment of research participants. Though we have no deadline date, we will be closing access to survey in the near future. This will permit us to begin analyzing data gained from survey results. We will then move into the phase of preparing data for distribution. In the end, our goal is similar to many prior research goals at TennesseeWorks; we believe our communities, businesses, and schools can all contribute and benefit from meaningful employment for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

TennesseeWorks is all about collaboration and partnerships. There have been many contributors thus far. The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development have assisted in recruiting employers to participate in the survey project. Many have provided countless hours to create surveys, prepare mailings, and ensure the project moves forward. Many more will continue to offer their assistance as we near completion.

We want to include the voices of as many Tennessee employers as we can and will continue our search for participants. If you have thoughts or questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at brian.valentini@vanderbilt.edu. Be sure to check our website for updates on this project.  Thank you to all have contributed and taken part in this project.

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