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Barriers to Employment for Transition-age Youth with Developmental and Psychiatric Disabilities


Youth with developmental and psychiatric disabilities encounter significant vocational challenges, even when they receive supported employment services. We examined the barriers to employment for 280 transition-age youth with disabilities enrolled in supported employment in eight community rehabilitation centers. Employment team members identified each youth’s top three barriers to employment using a 21-item checklist. Lack of work experience, transportation problems, and program engagement issues represented common barriers for both youth with developmental disabilities (53, 36, and 25%) and youth with psychiatric disabilities (20, 33, and 26%). Additional common barriers among youth with developmental disabilities included cognitive problems (32%) and lack of social skills (23%) and among youth with psychiatric disabilities included poor control of psychiatric symptoms (23%). Despite receiving evidence-based employment services, youth with disabilities encounter many barriers to employment. Awareness of typical barriers for transition-age youth, including those specific to different disability groups, may help employment programs anticipate challenges and develop strategies that avoid these barriers and their effects on employment opportunities.

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The authors thank the State of Illinois and the Individual Placement and Support team members at the community rehabilitation centers for their contribution to this report and the services that they provide to the youth described in this evaluation, and Mr. Doug Morton for his expertise in employment services. The authors thank SourceAmerica for its support.


This study was funded by the Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Rehabilitation Services and SourceAmerica.

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Correspondence to Valerie A. Noel.

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Dr. Noel declares she has no conflict of interest. Dr. Oulvey is the State Coordinator of Psychiatric Rehabilitation and Addictions with and receives income from the Illinois Department of Human Services Division of Rehabilitation Services. Dr. Drake declares he has no conflict of interest. Dr. Bond declares he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Dartmouth’s Institutional Review Board reviewed the study and deemed it program evaluation and therefore exempt and not requiring informed consent from clients or families receiving services. Only aggregated program-level client data were included in the analyses.

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Noel, V.A., Oulvey, E., Drake, R.E. et al. Barriers to Employment for Transition-age Youth with Developmental and Psychiatric Disabilities. Adm Policy Ment Health 44, 354–358 (2017).

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  • Youth
  • Barriers
  • Employment
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Mental illness