Article Details

Research Database: Article Details

Citation:  Rumrill, P. D., Fraser, R. T., & Johnson, K. L. (2013). Employment and workplace accommodation outcomes among participants in a vocational consultation service for people with multiple sclerosis. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 39 (2), 85-90.
Title:  Employment and workplace accommodation outcomes among participants in a vocational consultation service for people with multiple sclerosis
Authors:  Rumrill, P. D., Fraser, R. T., & Johnson, K. L.
Year:  2013
Journal/Publication:  Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation
Publisher:  IOS Press
Full text:   
Peer-reviewed?  Yes
NIDILRR-funded?  Not reported

Structured abstract:

Background:  Individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS) face a high unemployment rate. There are over 400,000 people living with multiple sclerosis in the United States. Previous research has found that even though almost 90% of individuals with multiple sclerosis have a history of working, only 30% are found to be employed. There has been little attention given to clients with multiple sclerosis within the vocational rehabilitation field. The Rehabilitation Services Administration, along with some university-based personnel and the Multiple Sclerosis Society and its affiliates have funded vocational demonstration projects, such as MS Back to Work or Operation Job Match Program, the Job Raising Program, and Project Alliance. The first groups of these demonstration projects helped individuals with MS through training on seeking employment and direct work placement assistance. Later demonstration projects continued the training on job seeking skills, but focused on placement training and brainstorming solutions to eliminate workplace barriers. The Americans with Disabilities Act influenced these later demonstration projects, particularly Project Alliance.
Purpose:  The purpose of the study is to examine the capacity at which workplace accommodations impact employment. This study is specifically looking at the actual process of accommodations in the workplace. This study is the first to look at how accommodation-related work services impact individuals with MS over time. The study contacted individuals who had used employment assistance services 10 to 15 years prior as a follow up to determine the long term and short term employment outcomes and to discover the individual’s accommodations experience.
Setting:  The study was conducted using phone interviews with individuals who contacted the Kent State Employment Assistance Center. Individuals interviewed for this study had contacted the center between 10 and 15 years prior.
Study sample:  The sample was comprised of 41 adults with multiple sclerosis. Sixty-three percent of the sample were women and 37% were men. The median age of the sample was 46.9 years, with participants ranging in age from 31 to 62 years. Eighty-five percent of the sample was Caucasian and 15% were African American. All of the participants were high school graduates and 63% had earned four year degrees or a graduate degree. The average number of years that the participants had been coping with multiple sclerosis was 14.8 years. Common symptoms reported by participants were fatigue, problems with mobility, numbness and tingling in their extremities, spasticity, and cognitive impairment. At the time of participating in employment assistance services, all of the participants were either full time or part time employed. At the time the study was conducted, 59% of the participants were still employed. 41% of participants were not employed at the time the study was conducted. Due to health reasons, nine of the participants had retired early. Long term disability or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits were received by this group. 51% of the participants were married or living with a partner, while 49% were either divorced, widowed, or had never married.
Data collection and analysis:  Data was collected for this study through a follow up survey. Individuals with MS who participated in telephone or online employment assistance services from 2001 to 2006 were surveyed. Forty-one individuals who had contacted the employment assistance services during this 5-year period were contacted for this study. A 48-item protocol was used to collect data from the telephone interviews. There was a combination of fixed and open response questions. Vocational rehabilitation counselors and researchers conducted the telephone interviews. Informed consent was obtained before the interviews began. The average interview length was 42.6 minutes. All participation was voluntary and there was no compensation received by participants. The structured interviews produced qualitative and quantitative data. An Excel spreadsheet and SPSS program were used to analyze the data.
Findings:  The results focus on the 5 main research questions that were the focus of the study. The study found 60% of the participants to still be working, with 80% of the employed group having been continually employed since contacting employment assistance services. These participants indicated that the likely accommodations to be provided were low cost and low impact. Among the 41 participants, 47 accommodations were requested. Of these accommodations, 23% were requests for schedule changes at work, while 26% asked for equipment or assistive technology. The results found that 56% of participants received an accommodation provided by their employer, while 17% did not receive employer provided accommodations and lost their jobs. Seven percent were not provided an accommodation and did not need one, while 7% did not receive an employer provided accommodation and their employer did not have MS. Seven percent of participants had not asked for any accommodations and 5% had asked and their request was denied. In the follow up surveys participants were asked what made their accommodation successful or unsuccessful. The most common reason for an accommodation being deemed successful was “low cost”. 67% of the participants reasoned an accommodation outcome as unsuccessful due to believing that their employer wanted to terminate their job after the participant revealed their MS. The most common symptoms of MS indicated by participants were weakness, average rating of 4.1, fatigue, average rating of 7.3, imbalance, average rating of 3.4, and memory issues with a 3.1 average rating. These ratings were determined using a 0-10 scale. Household income was also a focus of the study. Eight participants indicated earning less than $40,000 a year. Of these 8, only 2 of the participants were currently employed at the time the study was conducted.
Conclusions:  The study concludes that more research is needed. The study concludes that only a quarter of workers with MS had contacted a state vocational rehabilitation agency. Personal self-confidence in terms of handling their own situation, little or no trust in that state agency, or a lack of understanding of the vocational rehabilitation program are all listed as potential reasons for the low number of workers with MS contacting state agencies. The small sample size is a limitation of the study, in addition to having no uniform follow point from contact with the state agency. Another limitation is that the information is self-reported. Recommendations for further research include a larger sample size, a standard follow up point, such as one year post consultation, and if available, confirm information with a significant other.