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Supported Employment for the Deaf: Should We Be Doing More?

Pamela Luft, Kent State University

This investigation studied the employment records of 879 individuals who participated in the Illinois Supported Employment Project between 1985- 1991 and who had separated (left or been fired) from their jobs. This project was state funded with cooperation from agencies throughout Illinois and yet, only 13 were either Deaf or Hard of Hearing. This suggests that there is minimal involvement of Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals in supported employment programs in general.

The specific focus of the investigation was the reasons that these supported employees left their jobs. Based upon ratings by special education and rehabilitation professionals, reasons for job separation were divided into positive (e.g., no longer needed support or hired by the company), neutral (e.g., moved or transportation problems), and negative (e.g., poor work attitude, too slow, or insubordinate behavior) categories. A comparison between disability groups indicated that the 13 Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals separated from their jobs for more negative reasons than any other disability group.

These empirical results were compared to experiences of students/clients in both special education and rehabilitation settings. Discussion addressed possible reasons for negative employment experiences of Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals and some potential solutions. Such solutions may need to include a continuum of employment options, broader than current definitions of supported employment. The impact of significant hearing loss may require creative means of providing additional assistance. Options might include greater use of identified supports within the work and home environment ( natural supports), as well as identification and formation of a strong support network. In addition, long range career planning will need to address initial negative job separations as part of a learning process that is mirrored by persons with normal hearing and without disabilities, with an expectation for positive job separations to occur as the individual gains employment experience.