Research News Flash
Summary: Whitney Neal
Source Article: Kumin, L., & Schoenbrodt, L. (2015). Employment in Adults with Down Syndrome in the United States: Results from a National Survey. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities.
Due to advances in technology, the life expectancy of an adult with Down syndrome has increased from less than age 10 in the 1900s to greater than age 50 today. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, 80 percent of adults with Down syndrome now reach their 50th birthday. Because of this significant increase in life expectancy, employment and adult life are now important issues to consider in adults with Down syndrome.
Since people with Down syndrome are better at understanding than expressing, difficulties with speech and language can often lead relatives, friends, teachers and potential employers to underestimate both their intelligence and capabilities. This is most likely a large contributing factor to the high unemployment rate of people with Down syndrome. While data indicates that current labor force participation for people with disability in the United States is 20.3 percent, this statistic groups people with a disability as a single category; there is no separate category or date for people with Down syndrome or any other specific disability. This study used an online survey to seek information about the employment and unemployment levels in adults with Down syndrome in the United States.
The survey was developed using three separate focus groups consisting of adults with Down syndrome and their parents. It was then refined by members of the National Down Syndrome Congress and 20 active parent groups. The final version of the questionnaire consisted of 45 fill-in-the-blank questions to gain information of paid and unpaid work experiences. Survey participation was achieved by posting on the message boards of the National Down Syndrome Congress, the National Down Syndrome Society, the Global Down Syndrome Foundation and mailings through national parent support networks.
Five hundred and eleven survey responses were received from 37 states. Fifty-three percent of the respondents were male and 47 percent were female. The majority of the respondents were currently working in some capacity: 57 percent were working a paid job, 26 were volunteers, almost three percent were self-employed, and 30 percent were unemployed. Of the respondents working in some capacity, only three percent were full-time, paid employees, and no volunteers worked more than 20 hours per week. Of those who answered the questions related to type of paid work experiences, the highest percentage of people worked in the following categories: 19 percent in restaurant/food services, 19 percent in office/clerical settings, 14 percent in cleaning/housekeeping/custodial services, 12 percent in grocery stores, and eight percent in workshop/warehouse settings. Although 10 percent of respondents reported inadequate transportation as a reason for unemployment, 33 percent cited other reasons, including lack of job-skill teaching programs and job coaching.
According to the survey results, only 57 percent were employed. Although this constitutes the majority, adults with Down syndrome are largely employed in jobs that underutilize their skills. The present investigation documented that most adults with Down syndrome worked in a limited number of job categories, referred to as the five Fs: Food (fast food and kitchen work), Filth (cleaning and janitorial services), Flowers (florists and landscaping), Factories (light assembly line work), and Filing (office mail delivery), even though a large majority (69 percent) of adults reported that they use computers.
Areas of employment should be broadened and technology and computer skills need to be included in education and job training. This is not to say that all people with Down syndrome will have the interest or skills to use a computer at work, but further examination should be done to see whether computer skills can lead to good, stable jobs for some people with Down syndrome. Educators, job counselors and families need to work together to broaden employment opportunities for people with Down syndrome by developing clear plans from education to post-school employment.