Researchers receive grant to work with businesses on studying best practices for hiring, retaining workers with disabilities

Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education

Researchers net grant to work with businesses
on studying best practices for hiring, retaining workers with disabilities

Faculty members at UW–Madison are playing a key role in a new federally funded research project designed to examine business practices that lead to companies hiring and retaining workers with disabilities.

This initiative is especially important, researchers say, because it’s estimated that nearly 60 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed in the United States.

“This project is unique and exciting because it’ll allow us to work with the private sector on solutions that are important to society,” says UW–Madison’s Timothy Tansey, an assistant professor with the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education.

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) is the lead institution on this $4.37 million Rehabilitation Research and Training Center grant announced in November, with UW–Madison’s subcontract on the project worth $1.75 million. The award is from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research.

Fong Chan
Funding will support four studies, two of which will be led by UW–Madison’s Fong Chan, the Norman L. and Barbara M. Berven Professor of Rehabilitation Psychology. The overall project, which is being led by VCU Professor Paul Wehman, runs through 2021.

In recent years, Chan, Tansey and colleagues within the department have been working with partners in Wisconsin and across the nation on major research projects that aim to assist state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies. The state-federal VR program serves about one million individuals per year and spends more than $2.5 billion in helping people with disabilities achieve their independent living and employment goals. The 80 state VR agencies across the nation often operate in different ways, so the UW–Madison researchers and colleagues around the United States are looking to find, tease out and then amplify the most effective practices.

“We now look forward to working closely with companies of all sizes to learn more about what they are looking for in workers and to study practices that are effective in hiring, training and integrating workers with disabilities into successful businesses,” says Chan, who chairs the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education, and in April received the Distinguished Career Award from the National Council on Rehabilitation Education.

The two projects led by Chan at UW–Madison include:

● A review of literature and in-depth case studies of successful business practices, both in the U.S. and across the globe, to identify key factors in employment outcomes of people with disabilities. As part of this study, researchers will conduct a qualitative case study with nine companies of different sizes that are identified as highly successful employers of people with disabilities.

● An analysis of effective measures utilized by employers to assess outcomes for hiring, retention and advancement of individuals with disabilities. The purpose of this study is to develop and validate a comprehensive employment outcome measure to track hiring, retention, workplace integration, career advancement and quality of employment for people with disabilities.

The two other studies that are part of the new research project will be led by VCU, with the largest of the four studies involving Bon Secours Virginia Health System, which is regarded as a leader in the hiring of people with disabilities. This project will provide an intensive study of the large health system’s business practices to promote employment outcomes for people with disabilities.

Another VCU research study, which will be conducted in Richmond, Va., will involve working with up to 75 employers of various sizes. This study will look at the real-time decision-making processes that supervisors go through when deciding to hire, retain or promote people with disabilities.

Fong Chan quote

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