By C. Brandon Chapman, College of Education

Marcus-PoppenPULLMAN, Wash. – A clinical assistant professor of special education has won an award for his research predicting what will or won’t help young adults with disabilities to find jobs.

Marcus Poppen was given the Pat Sitlington Emerging Research Award from the Council for Exceptional Children’s Division on Career Development and Transition. The award is given every other year for exemplary graduate student research in the field of transition education for individuals with disabilities. Poppen’s research was from his doctoral studies at the University of Oregon.

A recognized problem

Young adults with disabilities remain among the most underrepresented demographic within the work force. U.S. Department of Labor stats show that they are employed nearly half as often as those without disabilities.

“Working is one of the primary ways that we achieve economic and social mobility,” Poppen said. “Without their participation in the labor force, disparities in these areas continue to widen.”

Traditionally, the school-to-work pipeline for students with disabilities has been facilitated through services offered by the U.S. Department of Education, state vocational rehabilitation services and similar entities.

Vocational programs show promise

Poppen’s research identifies specific individual characteristics that can decrease the odds that an individual with a disability will obtain employment. These characteristics include sex (being a young woman), mental illness, acquired brain injury, low interpersonal skills and low socio-economic status.

It’s not totally clear why these individual characteristics affect employment outcomes, but it’s likely to extend beyond skills deficits and involve social perceptions of individuals with disabilities who exhibit these characteristics.

“One of the ways that we work to address these disparities and promote independence is by bridging the gap between in-school services and post-school services,” Poppen said.

His results show that certain factors help overcome risk factors. None was bigger than involvement in vocational rehabilitation services. One example of this is the Oregon Youth Transition Program, which Poppen examined closely.

“Even after considering the potential barriers for young adults entering the work force, we know that providing robust career development opportunities through collaborative statewide school-based transition programs, and other means, can greatly increase the likelihood that young adults with disabilities will achieve positive post-secondary results,” he said.