Most Americans with intellectual or developmental disabilities remain shut out of the workforce despite changing attitudes and billions spent on government programmes to help them. Even when they find work, it is often part time, in a dead-end job, or for pay well below the minimum wage.
Employment is seen as crucial for improving the quality of life for people with these disabilities and considered a benchmark for measuring the success of special-education programmes. Yet the jobs picture is as bleak now as it was more than a decade ago.
Only 44 per cent of intellectually disabled adults are currently in the labour force, either employed or looking for work, while just 34 per cent are actually working, according to a survey by Special Olympics and conducted by Gallup and the University of Massachusetts at Boston. That compares with 83 per cent of non-disabled, working-age adults who are in the workforce.
"The needle has not changed in more than four decades," said Gary Siperstein, professor at the University of Massachusetts and one of the authors of the study. "We just can't move the barometer. And we've invested a lot of resources with lots of good programmes around the country."
Intellectual disability can include conditions such as autism or Down's syndrome, but the vast majority of cases are those with limited intellectual capacity, generally an IQ of about 75 or less, and limitations in handling basic life skills such as counting money or taking public transportation.