News Release

Kessler Foundation receives two federal grants to further new research on autism and outcomes and assessment for people with disabilities

Funds will be used to improve employment skills for adults on the spectrum and evaluate travel instruction services for people with disabilities

Grant and Award Announcement

Kessler Foundation

East Hanover, NJ – January 9, 2024 – Kessler Foundation, a leading research organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with disabilities, received two significant grants from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) to further research on barriers faced by individuals with disabilities. The grants, totaling $1,175,510, will fund groundbreaking research initiatives focused on enhancing employment opportunities for adults on the autism spectrum and improving travel instruction services available to people with disabilities in New Jersey.

A $577,787 grant will support study lead Helen Genova, PhD, associate director, Center for Autism Research, in a groundbreaking research project titled “A Strength-Based Tool to Enhance Employment for Adults on the Autism Spectrum.” Individuals on the autism spectrum face disproportionately high unemployment rates, highlighting the need for innovative approaches to vocational training.

Dr. Genova's project aims to shift the paradigm from deficit-based approaches to a strength-based one by introducing Kessler Foundation Strength Identification and Expression program (KF-STRIDE™). "We believe that by focusing on individuals' strengths, we can unlock their full potential and improve their chances of gaining meaningful employment," she explained.

“KF-STRIDE was initially developed for adolescents on the autism spectrum and is now being adapted for adults,” explained Dr. Genova. “This adaptation will involve modifying the content and design of the existing prototype based on feedback from key stakeholders. The adapted KF-STRIDE will be designed specifically for adults and evaluated for its usability, feasibility, and initial effectiveness,” she added.

The project will proceed through four stages, culminating in an adapted KF-STRIDE program tailored to the unique needs of adults on the autism spectrum. Anticipated outcomes include significant improvements in job interview skills among participants who receive KF-STRIDE, compared to a control group.

The ultimate goal is to empower individuals on the spectrum to identify and confidently express their strengths, ultimately improving their job interview skills and employment prospects.

A second grant, totaling $597,723, will support a collaborative project led by Amanda Botticello, PhD, MPH, associate director, and Lauren Murphy, PhD, research scientist, of the Center for Outcomes and Assessment Research at the Foundation. The project, titled “A Research-Community Partnership to Enhance the Potential of Travel Instruction Services for People Living with Disabilities,” addresses the ongoing challenges faced by individuals with disabilities in accessing transportation.

Despite the significant strides made in disability rights since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) over thirty years ago, transportation remains a substantial barrier to independence and community participation for many individuals with disabilities. The project will partner with the New Jersey Travel Independence Program (NJTIP @ Rutgers), a community-based program at Rutgers University that provides travel instruction services to people with disabilities in New Jersey.

According to NJTIP @ Rutgers, travel instruction is a spectrum of services meant to teach safe independent travel skills on public transit: the bus, train, light rail, county, and private systems. NJTIP graduates learn how to interpret bus and train schedules; plan their trips; pay their fares; and take safety precautions as part of their individualized training program.

The investigative team, in collaboration with NJTIP @ Rutgers, will conduct a multi-phase outcomes assessment of the program's effectiveness. “The insights gained from this research will help inform program design and future outreach efforts, ultimately enhancing opportunities for community participation among individuals with disabilities,” said Dr. Murphy.

“With our study, we aim to fill critical knowledge gaps regarding strategies to address transportation access barriers, furthering the mission of empowering people with disabilities to travel safely and independently on public transportation,” added Dr. Botticello.

Elaine Katz, Senior VP of Grants and Communications at the Foundation, will provide consultation for this unique partnership between researchers and direct service providers.

Funding: National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (grant 90IFDV0032) and (grant 90IFRE0082).

About Kessler Foundation
Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research. Our scientists seek to improve cognition, mobility, and long-term outcomes, including employment, for adults and children with neurological and developmental disabilities of the brain and spinal cord including traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and autism. Kessler Foundation also leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities. For more information, visit KesslerFoundation.org.

Press Contacts at Kessler Foundation:
Deborah Hauss, DHauss@kesslerfoundation.org
Carolann Murphy, CMurphy@KesslerFoundation.org

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