Public Release: 

US researchers explore variations in employment outcomes for people with disabilities

Analysis of American Community Survey data with state and county data shows employment outcomes are most strongly related to state and local economic conditions and physical environment

Kessler Foundation


IMAGE: Dr. O'Neill is director of disability and employment research at Kessler Foundation. view more 

Credit: Kessler Foundation

East Hanover, NJ. October 8, 2018. A team of disability researchers has authored a new article that explores the underlying factors for the substantial geographic variation in employment rates among people with disabilities in the U.S. Their findings are detailed in, "State and Local Determinants of Employment Outcomes among Individuals with Disabilities," which was published in the Journal of Disability Policy Studies. 2018, Vol. 29(2) 119 -128. The authors are Purvi Sevak, PhD, of Mathematica Policy Research, John O'Neill, PhD, of Kessler Foundation, Andrew Houtenville, PhD, and Debra Brucker, PhD, of the University of New Hampshire - Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD).

Throughout the U.S., there is wide variability in employment outcomes for people with disabilities. Among states, for example, rates vary from 25.3% in West Virginia to 52.8% in North Dakota. In Arizona, employment rates vary by county, from less than 30% to more than 40%. This wide variability among and within states suggested that environmental factors, such as the physical environment, local economic conditions, and policy variables play a role in the likelihood of finding people with disabilities in the workforce.

Working with national data from the 2009-2011 American Community Survey and a set of state- and county-level environmental variables, the team examined the relationship between employment outcomes of people with disabilities and the environmental factors of the counties and states in which they reside. Their findings provide clues to the geographic variations in employment across the U.S.

"We found that employment outcomes were most strongly related to the economic conditions and physical environment; while the policy environment was less of an influence," noted co-author John O'Neill, PhD, director of disability and employment research at Kessler Foundation. "None of these factors, however, were as strongly related to employment as individual health and personal characteristics," he emphasized, "which is why all of these factors need to be weighed and considered in order to find effective ways to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities."

"The efforts we focus on policies aimed at benefiting individuals must be weighed within the broader context of the environment," said Dr O'Neill. "For example, policies that expand educational opportunities will be more likely to result in employment if the local job market and economic conditions of the job market are considered."


Article link:

This research was supported by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) under cooperative agreement 90RT5017-01-01 for the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Individual Characteristics Related to Employment among Individuals with Disabilities.

About Kessler Foundation

Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research that seeks to improve cognition, mobility and long-term outcomes, including employment, for people with neurological disabilities caused by diseases and injuries of the brain and spinal cord. Kessler Foundation leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities. For more information, visit

For more information, or to interview an expert, contact: Carolann Murphy, 973.324.8382, Learn more by visiting

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