New research highlights role for mentors in improving work outcomes for individuals with disabilities

Written by Justin Preston

Family and close friends play an integral role in helping people with childhood-onset disabilities attain quality employment as adults, a new study from Oregon State University has found.

However, not everyone has an extensive family network available to them. In such a context, a mentor can help bridge the gap and supplement the social capital available to individuals with childhood-onset disabilities.

“For people with childhood-onset disabilities, these strong family ties are more important,” David Baldridge, one of the authors of the study, said. “It’s also critical for families to understand that part of their role is to help the person with disabilities to expand their network beyond the family.”

Put another way, the development of a person’s social network starts well before they enter the work force, so thinking of ways to develop relationships during adolescence can provide an early start. To help foster these connections outside of the home, a number of organizations have made it their mission to specialize in working with youth with disabilities. Check out our interview with Kristin Humphries of Partners for Youth with Disabilities (PYD), one such organization, to read more about their work. PYD also offers trainings to help organizations become more inclusive spaces for those with disabilities.

The findings underscore the value of social supports for people with disabilities to assist them in building those networks and, when they are employed, navigating the workplace in an effort to secure more hours or access jobs that require more advanced skills, Baldridge said. The study was published recently in the journal Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal.

Those with childhood-onset disabilities — meaning they were born with a disability or acquired one as a minor — are among the most marginalized populations when it comes to employment. They are often unemployed or underemployed in jobs that do not provide adequate hours for financial self-sufficiency or fulfillment because their skills and abilities are underutilized.

“You can’t just look at whether they are working or not,” Baldridge said. “Are they using all of their skills to the best of their ability?” The researchers’ goal with the new study was to better understand how social capital may be linked to improved employment opportunities for people with childhood-onset disabilities. Social capital is the value of employees’ social networks, which are composed of people that employees know, and includes strong ties to family and friends and value created by interactions with people in their social networks.

They found that those with larger families also tended to have more close friends. Those with strong ties to family and friends had access to more hours of paid employment. Severity and type of disability were not significant factors with regard to hours worked or use of skills.

Overall, the findings raise concerns that people with childhood-onset disabilities who have few family members or close friends may have difficulty overcoming barriers to adequate employment, Baldridge said.

By providing youth with disabilities the relational support of a mentor, it is possible to provide a lasting impact by expanding the mentee’s social network and access to opportunities. Such opportunities can provide them an avenue to better utilize their whole range of skills in future employment.

This article was adapted from a previously published story, click here to read more.