Maureen E. Gormley, School of Human and Organizational Development
Individuals with intellectual disability (ID) have always been part of society but the ways in which they have been characterized and perceived has changed over time. A legacy of stigma remains towards these individuals despite decades of advocacy efforts aimed at promoting their social inclusion. This study explores workplace stigma, as assessed through coworker perceptions over time, toward transition-age youth (i.e., 18–22 years of age) with ID who entered a mainstream workforce through a formalized, school-to-work transition program. The conceptual framework that informs the study includes (a) transition-age youth with ID, (b) stigma, and (c) school-to-work transition. The study asked: In what ways do coworkers describe their perceptions over time of transition-age youth with ID hired in a coworkers’ unit within the context of a formalized, school-to-work transition program? This qualitative, descriptive design used thematic analysis to analyze data collected on 15 coworkers of individuals with ID from 14 organizations that had implemented the formalized, school-to-work transition program. The setting for the study was Project SEARCH, a school-to-work transition model that began at Cincinnati Children's Hospital in the mid-1990s. Study findings supported the framework that youth with ID face challenges as they seek employment in fully immersed work settings, including stigma—initial negative perceptions related to their capabilities and behaviors. Findings suggest that participants addressed and overcame negative perceptions where workplace concerns about anticipated performance and behavioral challenges shifted to positive contributions they reported the youth with ID made. In this instance, the school-to-work transition program played a major role in bringing about this shift. Eliciting coworker perceptions is an important part of the dialogue concerning the ways in which youth with ID are stigmatized as they transition from school to the world of employment.
KeyWords: school-to-work transition, stigma, intellectual disability, youth, coworker perceptions