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Policy to increase employment opportunities for young adults with a disability is essential

12 December 2013

Most young adults with a disability need intensive support in finding and maintaining employment. Parents and friends play a major role in this process, as do formal social contacts such as school teachers, employment specialists, reintegration consultants and job coaches. Recent research has shown the importance of acknowledging, stimulating and facilitating this role. The study was conducted by human geographer Anja Holwerda from the University Medical Center Groningen. She explored the factors affecting work participation among young adults applying for young disabled persons (Wajong) benefits, and will be awarded a PhD for her work by the University of Groningen on 18 December.

A growing number of young adults have difficulty participating in society due to illness or disability. These young adults are significantly less likely to find a job than their healthy counterparts. Young adults with a disability who cannot work or who have limited employment potential receive benefits under the terms of the Invalidity Insurance (Young Disabled Persons) Act ( Wajong or Wet arbeidsongeschiktheidsvoorziening jonggehandicapten ). The number of young adults in receipt of these benefits has risen significantly in recent years. Holwerda’s research explored the factors affecting their chances of finding or maintaining employment.

Potential to work

In her study, Holwerda discovered that in the opinion of insurance physicians, 84% of those applying for young disabled persons benefits have the potential to work. Insurance physicians from the Social Security Institute are responsible for assessing applicants’ employment abilities. They tend to base their assessment on the main diagnosis, and the fact of whether the person has one or more co-morbid conditions and/or other subclinical disorders. In general, a young person with a mental disorder is less likely to be able to work than a young person with a physical disability. Young adults with multiple diagnoses and those with mental health problems have fewer abilities than those without.

Transition from special education to work

In addition, Holwerda looked into the transition from special education to work for young adults with intellectual disabilities and/or a developmental disorder. The social environment, which includes parents and teachers, plays an important part in helping these young adults to find work. Holwerda shows that 39% of this group managed to find a job within the first 18 months after applying for young disabled persons benefits . She also shows that school teachers are in the best position to assess their pupils’ potential and can predict their chances of a job fairly accurately. The predictions are even more accurate if the parents’ opinion is added to the perspective of the school teacher. Holwerda would therefore like to see profiles of these pupils’ characteristics and qualities compiled at an early age, with the parents being involved in the process. Offering young adults adequate supervision at an early stage would reduce the number of young adults receiving young disabled persons benefits and increase their chances of finding a job.

Supervision in the workplace

Continuity in supervising these young adults in the workplace is essential for a smooth transition from school to work. Once they have started work, employers and colleagues can adopt this role. According to Holwerda, it is important that they too are given the facilities they need to support these young adults in holding down a job.

Policy is essential

Holwerda would like to see these factors taken into account when devising interventions designed to help young adults with a disability to find and maintain employment. She also considers it important that employers, municipal authorities and other government bodies provide suitable employment for young adults with a disability, encouraged by national government policy. ‘Policy aimed at giving these young adults their rightful place in society is absolutely essential. Society as a whole has a responsibility for helping them to participate fully. We simply cannot pass the buck to the young adults themselves’.

Curriculum Vitae

A. Holwerda (Dokkum, 1968) studied Social Geography at the University of Groningen. She conducted her research in the UMCG Department of Social Medicine, with partial funding from the Employment Insurance Agency UWV Knowledge Centre. Her thesis is entitled: ‘Work outcome in young adults with disabilities’. Holwerda will continue to work at the UMCG as a researcher.

Last modified:13 March 2020 02.14 a.m.
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