Quality of Life Improves with Supported Employment Programs for the Developmentally Disabled


Support the community and improve somebody’s overall quality of life, all simply accomplished when a business chooses to hire a developmentally-disabled employee (DDE) through a supported employment program. Such programs increase the productivity of people who want to work, which gives them a sense of self worth, as well as the freedom to make more life choices by increasing their income. Social networks form, and through supported programs, students of special education can even get the clinical experience they need to move on to careers helping the developmentally disabled.


What are supported programs?

A supported employment program will help the developmentally disabled achieve long-term success on the job by giving them guidance and helping them to integrate into the workplace with their coworkers. There are many programs supported by the state and federal government, as well as by private businesses.

Employment improves the quality of life for the developmentally disabled

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy, the current labor force participation of people with disabilities is 19.3 percent. Of those participating, 12.9 percent are unemployed; about 721,000 people as of June 2014. Why would the developmentally disabled want work so badly that this demand cannot be met? Because according to a British study by Wehman, Wehman and West in 2005, work improves the quality of life in many ways for the disabled. Furthermore, according to Garcia-Villamisar and Hughes in another UK study from 2005, supported work programs also improve the cognitive performance in autistic adults.

Work gives the developmentally disabled more independence and improved satisfaction, Wehman, Wehman and West say. This leads to a higher sense of self worth, since they say society judges a person’s worth by their productivity. Moreover, Wehman, Wehman and West also noted that the best way to know how the developmentally disabled will perform in the competitive workplace is to place them working alongside the non-developmentally disabled. Their study found that ultimately the social aspect of work is what contributed to the success of supported work programs. Interactions and job-related activities improved when the DDE was considered part of the social network. Joining the social network, according to the authors, is as simple as encouraging the DDE to give compliments to coworkers, or to talk about cultural things like music and movies.

An ancillary benefit, which further improves the quality of life for the developmentally disabled, is that by joining the social network, this opens the door to friendships and after-work social activities. Wehman, Wehman and West highlight that the needs for social acceptance and adjustment can be met by bringing the developmentally disabled into the workplace, and offering them enough guidance to complete the job.

In Garcia-Villamisar and Hughes’ study, they point out that businesses that offer the necessary support to programs to employ the developmentally disabled find the best long-term success. The best ways to support DDE is by giving them paid employment, an integrated work setting where they can learn and be supervised, and to continually support them and their efforts. In addition to long-term employer satisfaction with the program by offering appropriate support, the study also proved through a series of tests the cognitive performance of employees with autism improved after working in supported employment programs for three years.

Supported employment programs change perceptions

Supported work programs are based on the idea that no one is unemployable with the proper engagement, according to Owen (2005). Furthermore, coworkers of DDE learn respect, empathy and a sense of protectiveness, according to Owen’s analysis of a recorded discussion in her study. Employees consider the fairness of pay in light of productivity versus expended effort. Ultimately, perceptions change as awareness of the developmentally disabled in the community increases through supported work programs.

Less than one-third of respondents in a 2005 survey reported having experience hiring DDE, according to Robert Morgan and Melina Alexander (2005). That same survey highlighted a gap in perception between employers who had experience hiring DDE and those that didn’t. Inexperienced employers worried more about safety issues and the negative attitude of coworkers arising from hiring DDE than did employers who actually employ DDE. This minor perception problem is a small hurdle when compared to the benefits of hiring DDE through supported employment program.

Supporting the developmentally disabled in the work place helps the community

In terms of dollars, a DDE in a supported program on a job costs much less than someone with developmental disabilities living in a shelter and being employed in a workshop. According to Cimera (2007), employees in supported programs are 64.5 percent more cost-effective than workers in shelters. These financial benefits, coupled with the improvements to quality of life and cognitive performance, make supported work programs really attractive.

Finally, another group that benefits from supported work programs, as pointed out by Wehman, Wehman and West, are the students of special education. Many programs require a clinical study aspect, and mentoring through supported employment programs frequently qualify so these students receive college credit to graduate, and move onto careers helping the developmentally disabled in even greater capacity. The evidence is clear: programs to support the employment of the developmentally disabled should be encouraged.


Cimera, R. (2007). The Cumulative Cost-Effectiveness of Supported and Sheltered Employees With Mental Retardation. Research & Practice For Persons With Severe Disabilities, 32(4), 247-252.

García-Villamisar, D. D., & Hughes, C. C. (2007). Supported employment improves cognitive performance in adults with Autism. Journal Of Intellectual Disability Research, 51(2), 142-150. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2788.2006.00854.x

Morgan, R. L., & Alexander, M. (2005). The employer’s perception: Employment of individuals with developmental disabilities. Journal Of Vocational Rehabilitation, 23(1), 39-49.

Owen, S., et al. the world of work. (2005). Learning Disability Practice, 8(7), 28-36.

West, M. D., Wehman, P., & Wehman, P. (2005). Competitive employment outcomes for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities: The national impact of the Best Buddies Jobs Program.Journal Of Vocational Rehabilitation, 23(1), 51-63.