New study explores online mentoring for youth with physical disabilities

Lindsay, S., Cagliostro, E., Leck, J., & Stinson, J. (2019). A 12-week electronic mentoring employment preparation intervention for youth with physical disabilities: Pilot feasibility randomized controlled trial. JMIR Pediatrics and Parenting. doi:10.2196/12088

Summarized by Karina DeAndrade

Notes of Interest:

  • This qualitative study describes the experience of 13 youth with physical disabilities who participated in a randomized controlled trial for an online peer-mentorship program.
  • The program, Empowering Youth Towards Employment, aims to prepare youth with physical disabilities for employment.
  • The youth randomly assigned to the intervention group (n=9) reported greater improvements in self-determination than the control group (n=4).
  • The paper includes quotes from participating youth, who speak about what they liked about the program and what could be improved.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Youth with disabilities are at high risk of unemployment compared with youth without disabilities. They often encounter challenges in accessing vocational programs that meet their needs. One promising approach that could help to address barriers that youth encounter while also enhancing social support is through electronic mentoring (e-mentoring). Although there is an increase in e-mentoring for youth with disabilities, little is known about its impact for youth with physical disabilities. This study aimed to assess the acceptability and initial impact of a Web-based peer electronic mentor employment intervention for youth with physical disabilities. The Empowering Youth Towards Employment intervention was evaluated using a pilot randomized controlled trial (RCT). Youth, aged 15-21 years, with physical disabilities were randomly assigned to an intervention (i.e., mentored) or control (i.e., not mentored) group. Trained mentors (i.e., near peers) with a physical disability led the online discussion forums and provided peer support and resources for 12 modules (1 topic per week over 12 weeks). Primary outcomes focused on self-determination, career maturity, and social support. We also explored program adherence and dosage, participant satisfaction, and areas for improvement. A total of 13 youth (mean age 17.3 years, SD 1.88; 54%, 7/13 female) completed the RCT. In the intervention group (n=9), 56% (5/9) of the youth were females, and in the control group (n=4), 50% (2/4) of the youth were female. Participants reported satisfaction with the program and that it was feasible and acceptable. Participants’ mean engagement level with the program was 5.22 (SD 2.48) for the intervention group and 5.40 (SD 4.56) for controls. Participants in the intervention group demonstrated significant improvements in self-determination (t12=2.49; P<.04) compared with the control group. No adverse events were reported. The Empowering Youth Towards Employment is a promising intervention that enhances self-determination among youth with physical disabilities.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Our findings show that the Empowering Youth Towards Employment intervention demonstrated acceptability and preliminary evidence of impact in one of the outcome measures within a sample of youth with physical disabilities. Youth with disabilities are considered a vulnerable population that has unique vocational needs. Helping them to gain employment skills is important because they often encounter significantly higher unemployment rates compared with youth without disabilities. Therefore, providing mentoring and resources within a Web-based forum is one potential way that can help to engage youth with disabilities within an accessible format. Peer mentors can act as role models who help to normalize the experience of transitioning to work for those who have a disability. Knowing that others have gone through a similar experience may help to increase their motivation for pursuing vocational interests. Youth may be more receptive to receiving information from a peer who is closer in age. Previous research shows that mentoring is a promising mechanism that can help to enhance youth’s inclusion while also offering support and coping strategies. Web-based platforms can also influence learning and behavior change. Our study is novel in that it offers an employment preparation program through an e-mentor platform. Most previous studies focus on self-management and health-related outcomes.

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