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A national survey of employment services provided by independent living programs.

In conjunction with a research and demonstration project designed in part to support independent living programs (ILPs) in their efforts to increase activities addressing employability development and employment of their clientele, a national survey to ascertain the extent to which ILPs currently provide employment services was conducted. Employment services are defined as those services that are most directly associated with work preparation, job finding, and employment maintenance, as well as the development of job opportunities in the labor market. Although ILPs have the legal authority to offer employment services through the 1978 Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act (PL 95-602), a literature review failed to locate any empirical data on the extent and types of employment services that are presently provided by ILPs.

Rehabilitation authorities recognize that ILPs are in a unique position to offer employability services to persons with severe handicaps. This is because employment success can often be achieved most efficiently in the community within the context of a long-term, comprehensive, in-depth rehabilitation program. Furthermore, ILPs are located in many rural areas where the state division of rehabilitation may have difficulty in locating and meaningfully serving persons with disabilities. In some rural areas, the ILP may be the only local service program targeting persons with disabilities.



To determine the type and extent of employment services provided by ILPs, a four-page survey instrument was constructed. The first page requested descriptive information about the ILPs, such as number of staff members and number of consumers served. The second page listed 29 types of employment and non-employment services that could be offered by ILPs. The 29 types of services listed on the survey were selected from a previous survey (Jones, Petty, Bolles, & Mathews, 1986) of ILP service activity and were modified on the basis of a pilot survey with ILP executive directors. An effort was made to include all the types of services which ILPs might provide using descriptors which facilitated respondents' discriminations among services. Respondents indicated the amount of resources invested in each of the 29 categories of services using a three-point scale, major, minor, and insignificant (see Table 2 for definitions). The third and fourth pages of the survey form listed four common classes of employment services. Respondents indicated whether or not they provided each of the four classes of services by answering "yes" or "no" (see Table 3). The final question asked if any non-base grant funding to provide employment services was received and, if so, the source.


The 359 ILPs listed in the Directory of Independent Living Programs (1989) constituted the population of ILPs for this study. The independent living programs contained in the directory include all bonafide independent living centers as well as other programs that provide independent living services. The directory also includes a few administrative entities (e.g., state rehabilitation service independent living coordinators), single service programs (e.g., reader services), and conventional rehabilitation or hospital programs within which independent living services are offered. These types of "programs" were omitted from the sample because they did not offer multiple independent living services.

A random sample of ILPs was taken from the Directory for nine of the ten Division of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) regions. In HEW Region VI all ILPs were invited to participate. A total of 117 ILPs were asked to participate in the survey and 104 ILPs responded. The survey forms were addressed to each program's executive director or to a person designated by the executive director. In 76 cases the executive director completed the form. In 20 instances a program manager, someone designated as "coordinator," or someone in another supervisory position completed the survey. In six cases a person with a front-line job title such as "Independent Living Specialist" completed the survey form. The extremely high response rate (92%) was undoubtedly achieved because the principal investigator telephoned each of the ILP directors prior to distribution of the survey instrument and secured a verbal commitment to participate in the study.


The "typical" ILP in the research sample of 104 ILPs may be characterized using the median values on the descriptive variables included in Table 1. Range and quartile values are reported in the table because most of the distributions are skewed to the high end. It should be acknowledged that because of the extensive variability among the ILPs, the "typical" ILP is a statistical fiction.

To illustrate the large variability in the size and services of the ILPs, four ILPs at opposite ends of the "total personnel" and "consumers served" items distributions are described. An ILP with a total staff of three employees serves 300 consumers per year, while an ILP with 36 staff members serves 700 clients. Another ILP serves just 45 clients per year with nine employees; however, an ILP that serves 2,000 clients does so with a full-time staff of 12 persons. All four ILPs are located in population areas TABULAR DATA OMITTED with between 225,000 and two million residents. While the variability in the staff/consumer ratio may be explained by the types of services offered, the numerical description of the typical ILP is, nevertheless, distorted.

With this disclaimer about variability in mind, the average ILP in the research sample employs 2.5 professional service providers, 1.6 paraprofessional service providers, one professional administrator, and one paraprofessional administrator. One half (50%) of the typical staff are persons with disabilities and two-thirds (63%) of the typical ILP Board members are persons with disabilities. The typical ILP has been in operation 7.5 years, is located in a service area with a population of 350,000, and serves 290 consumers per year. This description of the typical ILP in this study is consistent with that reported by Nosek, Roth, and Zhu (1990).


The 29 categories of services offered by the ILPs are ranked according to the proportion of ILPs that consider the service to be a "major" service (i.e., a substantial amount of ILP resources are invested in the service). Before discussing the relative importance of employment services in the overall hierarchy of services provided, some general comments are warranted. Only seven of the 29 types of services contained in the survey listing were rated as "major" by 60% or more of the ILPs. And just eight more services were rated as "major" by between 25% and 60% of the ILPs. In other words, half of the 29 service areas were rated as "minor" or "insignificant" by fully three-quarters of the ILPs in the sample, suggesting that most ILPs offer a relatively focused program of service.
Table 2
Types of services offered by Independent Living Programs(a)
1. Information and Referral 92.7% 6.9% 1.0%
2. Advocacy (individual, community, 89.2% 9.8% 1.0%
and/or political)
3. Independent Living Skills Training 87.0% 11.0% 2.0%
(exclude mobility training)
4. Peer Counseling/Consultation 76.0% 16.0% 8.0%
5. Case Management Services 75.8% 11.1% 13.1%
6. Community Support (consultation on 75.0% 20.0% 5.0%
barrier removal, accommodations)
7. Housing Services/Assistances 63.6% 23.2% 13.1%
(excluding long-term residence)
8. Financial Services (counseling, 48.5% 36.4% 15.2%
financial support)
9. Personal Attendant Services 40.4% 30.3% 29.3%
10. Transportation Services 32.7% 33.7% 33.7%
11. Recreational/Social Programs 32.3% 43.4% 24.2%
12. Adaptive Equipment Services 30.5% 33.7% 35.8%
(includes van repair)
13. Vocational Counseling/Guidance(b) 27.4% 32.6% 40.0%
14. Employment/Vocational Services(b) 26.0% 35.0% 39.0%
15. Personal Life Support Services 25.3% 23.2% 51.6%
(meals, housekeeping, emergency)
16. Mobility Training 21.6% 46.4% 32.0%
17. Placement Services(b) 18.8% 19.8% 61.5%
18. Professional Adjustment 17.7% 28.1% 54.2%
Counseling (psychiatric,
psychological, family)
19. Transitional Employment 16.1% 11.8% 72.0%
20. On-the-Job Training(b) 15.6% 16.7% 67.7%
21. Medical Services (including 13.7% 9.5% 76.8%
PT & OT services)
22. Long-term Residential Services 11.5% 11.5% 77.1%
23. Supported Work Programs(b) 11.5% 9.4% 79.2%
24. Academic Educational Services 10.5% 24.2% 65.3%
25. Reader Services 6.3% 21.1% 72.6%
26. Legal Services 5.2% 18.6% 76.3%
27. Sheltered Workshop(b) 3.2% 1.1% 95.8%
28. Work/Labor Groups(b) 2.2% 3.3% 94.5%
29. Homebound or Home-based 1.1% 8.4% 90.5%
Employment Services(b)
a Services ranked according to proportion of Programs that
consider the service to be a "major service" (defined below).
MA Major Service: A substantial amount of the Program's
resources are invested.
MI Minor Service: Service is provided but it is considered a
secondary or "as time and resources permit" service.
IN Insignificant Service: Not provided at all or only rarely.
b Services usually considered to be employment services.
Table 2

The six services most frequently provided as a "major" service by the ILPs are: information and referral (93%), advocacy (89%), IL skills training (87%), peer counseling (76%), case management (76%), and community support (75%). Very few ILPs regarded these services as "insignificant". As information and referral, advocacy, and IL skills training are required by law for bonafide independent living centers it is to be expected that they would be active in these areas. Case management, as a necessary process activity for the delivery of multiple services, could also be expected to be a frequent service. Community support and housing services were the only two "free choice" activities which were reported by the majority of the ILPs as major activities. Even community support, in the language of the respondents, might have been interpreted to be a class of advocacy activity.

Eight services were reported by 25% to 60% of the ILPs as "major" activities (see Table 2). Employment/vocational services, which was reported as "major" by 26% of the ILPs, was the most general item contained in the list relating to ILPs' activity in the employment area. Of the specific employment/vocational activities listed on the survey, only vocational counseling/guidance (27%) fell in this range. It should be noted that while it was expected that the employment/vocational services item would be interpreted by the respondents to be the most conceptually encompassing item, at least two of the respondents did not interpret the items in this way as the vocational counseling/guidance item was rated as "major," at a slightly higher frequency, than the employment/vocational services item.

Of the remaining 14 services listed on the survey all were provided at a "major" level by less than 25% of the ILPs. Six of these items related to specific employment activities: placement services (19%), transitional employment (16%), on-the-job training (16%), supported work (12%), sheltered workshop (3%), work groups (2%), and homebound employment (1%). When all the types of services listed on the survey form are viewed from the perspective of "major" services, it can be concluded that employment services are receiving a moderate amount of attention as compared to other optional services. When one includes the "minor" category to examine the employment activities of ILPs, it is suggested that the majority of ILPs are investing some level of resources in the employment needs of their clientele.

It is true, of course, that larger proportions of ILPs considered their involvement in the various types of specific employment services which were listed on the form to be "insignificant" services. But, from a different perspective, 60% of ILPs offer vocational counseling services in some degree and 32% of ILPs provide some level of on-the-job training. It is also observed that fewer than 10% of ILPs offer services which most often are heavy resource consuming services such as sheltered work, work groups, or homebound employment. A more accurate indication of the level of employment services offered by ILPs is given in Table 3, however.

While the results of the eight specific employability activity items and one general item (i.e., employment/vocational) suggest a moderate amount of employment activity within ILPs, the questions focusing on four classes of employment activities yielded indications of greater levels of employment involvement. Almost three-quarters (73%) of ILPs engage in some type of community job development activity, with educational contacts with business (63%), and consultation to modify work settings (53%) being the most popular activities. Almost three-fifths (59%) of ILPs provide one or more employability development services, with basic work skills (48%), lifecareer coping (46%), and job seeking skills (40%), the most popular. Close to one half (45%) of ILPs offer vocational assessment services, although informal assessment (42%) is by far the most common approach, with standardized assessment much less likely to be used. Finally, two-fifths (40%) of the ILPs provide some type of occupational skills training. It can be concluded from the data in Table 3 that ILPs are substantially involved in the provision of a variety of employment services to their consumers.
Table 3
Specific Types of Employment Services Offered by Independent
1. Community Job Development Yes No
Educational Contact with Business 63.1% 36.9%
Consultation with Business to Modify 53.4% 46.6%
Work Settings
Political Initiatives 40.8% 59.2%
Public Media Messages 27.2% 72.8%
Total - One or more of Above 73.2% 26.8%
2. Employability Development Services
Basic Work Skills 48.0% 52.0%
Lifecareer Coping 46.1% 53.9%
Job Seeking Skills 40.2% 59.8%
Career Planning 22.5% 77.5%
Work Hardening 9.8% 90.2%
Total - One or More of Above 59.4% 40.6%
3. Vocational Assessment Services
Informal Assessment Only 42.3% 57.7%
In Conjunction with Work Activity 18.2% 81.8%
Interest Testing 18.2% 81.8%
Aptitude or Ability Testing 17.2% 82.8%
Work Tolerance 15.2% 84.8%
Total - One or More of Above 44.6% 55.4%
4. Occupational Skills Training 40.4% 59.6%
Table 3

It would generally be assumed that human service organizations with larger staffs would serve more consumers and that the larger organizations (i.e., those with larger staffs and serving more consumers) would provide more types of services. The correlational data for this sample suggest that these assumptions would not be warranted for ILPs. First, the total personnel (sum of the employees in item #1, Table 1) and the number of consumers served (item #6, Table 1) were essentially unrelated (r=.08, n.s.). Second, the relatively few significant correlations between total personnel and consumers served and the 29 services listed in Table 2 and the four classes of employment services included in Table 3 were of low magnitude (see Table 4).

The significant correlations in Table 4 suggest that ILPs with larger staffs are more likely to provide six of the nine employment services listed in Table 2. However, as noted above, the relationships are smaller than would be anticipated. The few relationships with total number of consumers served are impossible to interpret and probably should be disregarded as mere chance occurrences.

The last question on the survey instrument asked whether any special funding to provide employment services was received. Almost one third (29.3%) of the ILPs responded yes to the question, with most (26.0%) indicating that the funding agency was the state division of rehabilitation. Private business, foundations, the Job Training Partnership Act, and similar sources accounted for the remainder.


Although some general conclusions concerning the employment activities of ILPs can be drawn readily, primarily that ILPs are significantly involved in the provision of employment services, the precise extent of the programs' employment services remains somewhat vague. The survey item "vocational/employment services", which one might expect to most generally reflect the ILP's employment activities, was identified as a "major" area of service by approximately one in four programs. Yet, in response to the four questions relating to four common sub-groupings of "vocational/employment services" (i.e., employment assessment, occupational skills training, employability skill development classes, and increasing job opportunities) it could be estimated that about half of the programs are participating in at least three of these services and are doing so at a "major" level of service. The division between independent living/non-vocational and vocational/employment services is certainly not an easily discernable line and probably accounts for much of the difficulty the respondents encountered in answering the survey questions as well as the investigators' caution in interpreting the data. Even though it is difficult to make highly accurate conclusions, it can be stated that ILPs are significantly involved in the provision of employment services. Beyond those services which are mandatory for Title VII, Part B independent living centers and are typically considered as core services for ILPs, employment services rank rather high within the constellation of services that might be offered in support of persons with disabilities. Independent living centers are charged with providing services which are responsive to the needs of the consumers in their communities. Because over half of the survey respondents are providing some level of employment services, it may be inferred that employment needs exist in many communities and that ILPs are capable of responding to these needs.
Table 4
Significant Correlations Between Services Offered and Size Of
Independent Living Program
 Total Consumers
 Personnel Served
Peer Counseling/Consultation -.32(**)
Recreational/Social Programs -.27(**)
Vocational Counseling/Guidance .28(**)
Employment/Vocational Services .24(*)
Placement Services .29(**)
Professional Adjustment Counseling .35(***)
Transitional Employment Services .32(***)
On-the-job Training .23(*)
Medical Services .21(*)
Long-Term Residential Services .38(****)
Supported Work Programs .33(***)
Community Job Development .24(*)
Occupational Skills Training -.24(*)
Non-Base Funding .22(*)
* p |is less than~.05, ** p |is less than~ .01, *** p |is less
than~ .001.
Table 4

The lack of high correlations between staff size, number of persons served, and the provision of employment services does not come as a total surprise. Even a limited degree of first-hand contact with ILPs reveals great variability in their goals and their organization of resources to meet those goals. Some programs choose to spread themselves thin and respond to a large number of the needs of their consumers. Others may specialize. A particular center may focus on information and referral services, deal with a large number of persons with disabilities over time, and do so with a very small staff. Small programs, especially small rural programs, which are without the resources to develop and manage well defined and structured programs of services (which would tend to focus the activity of staff) may simply respond to any need a consumer may voice. Such an approach may be very appropriate in many geographical areas where few, if any, other services exist to support persons with disabilities. The data do not conflict with the observation that some very large ILPs offer formal employment services at a "major" level and that many small programs respond to employment needs, as well as any other expressed needs, on an informal basis and do so with a "major" emphasis--at least as major as anything else.

A significant number of ILPs are receiving non-base funding to provide employment services. Whether these monies were developed/solicited in response to priority needs of the ILPs' consumers, or if employment services were offered as the money was available, cannot be determined. By far, the most frequent grantor is the state division of rehabilitation. The frequency of contractual arrangements for employment services between ILPs and the department of rehabilitation services suggests considerable collaboration in supporting and assisting persons with disabilities in some communities.

Although the primary purpose of this paper is simply to describe employment activities provided by ILPs, there are several good reasons to provide some suggestions for consumers and practitioners. While there is no hard data to support the efficacy of ILPs' provision of employment services, it may be assumed that ILPs are able to make unique contributions to the employment goals of some consumers. This is due to the ILP focus on independent living needs supportive of vocational rehabilitation (VR) outcomes, not being time-bound in their delivery of VR services, their ability to employ people with severe disabilities as role models, and their advocacy activities.

The concurrent provision of typical independent living services via ILPs for consumers involved in vocational rehabilitation programs certainly has merit in many instances. Furthermore, ILPs may be able to provide tailored employment services for persons with severe disabilities which are difficult for more structured systems. Advocacy activities, in which most ILPs are significantly involved, may be a critical step in the success of many consumers. While the flexibility and breadth of services of ILPs provides many opportunities, the conventional VR providers with their highly developed vocational programs frequently are capable of making many contributions to any given individual VR program. It is suggested that consumers with employment goals consider utilizing both the services of ILPs and more traditional VR service providers as they plan for independence. Although the current data reflect some collaboration of community service entities involving ILPs in the provision of employment services, in the majority of cases there appears to be isolation.

While there are many policy, procedural, historical and attitudinal barriers to state rehabilitation agencies and ILPs collaborating, the fact that in some communities they are, at least on a contractual basis, indicates it can be done. It is suggested that providers examine the resources in their communities and form liaisons which might increase the range and/or quality of their services designed to support consumers in reaching their independence goals. For a thorough discussion of the advantages of state VR and ILP collaboration in serving consumers with employment goals, as well as a recommended new paradigm, the reader should review the Seventeenth Institute on Rehabilitation Issues monograph entitled, Vocational Rehabilitation Services in Independent Living Centers, (Means, 1991).


Jones, M. L., Petty C. R., Bolles, C., & Mathews, R. M. (1986). Independent living: A survey of program and service needs. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 29, 278-283.

Means, B. L. (Ed.) (1991). Vocational rehabilitation services in independent living centers. Seventeenth Institute on Rehabilitation Issues. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Research and Training Center in Vocational Rehabilitation.

Nosek, M. A., Roth, P. L., & Zhu, Y. (1990). Independent living programs: The impact of program age, consumer control, and budget on program operation. Journal of Rehabilitation, 56(4), 28-35.

Texas Institute on Rehabilitation Research. (1989). ILRU Directory of Independent Living Programs. Houston: Research Utilization Research and Training Center on Independent Living.
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Title Annotation:Employment Issues
Author:Bolton, Brian
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Date:Oct 1, 1992
Previous Article:The client as customer: achieving service quality and customer satisfaction in rehabilitation.
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