Career able: empowering people with disability to find meaningful work

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The result of groundbreaking research led by the University of Adelaide, an online vocational rehabilitation resource for people living with disability is set to not only improve the confidence and wellbeing of users, but boost the national economy.

Of the many challenges facing people with a physical disability, the pursuit of meaningful employment carries arguably the highest stakes.

Finding a rewarding job not only improves quality of life and reduces financial pressures for the individuals concerned and their families, but has significant indirect benefit for the national economy. The long-term costs in Australia of care and lost productivity through the underutilisation of people with a spinal cord injury (SCI) alone are estimated at around $500 million annually.

Historically, it’s often proved a bridge too far. Currently just 35% of adult Australians with a SCI, for example, are in paid work. But an innovative online resource, developed by a collaborative, University of Adelaide-led research team, is set to make a lasting difference.

According to lead researcher Dr Diana Dorstyn, a clinical psychologist and lecturer within the University’s School of Psychology, the resource—the first of its kind targeting the specific needs of those with physical disability—has had an encouraging impact in three national pilot programs.

“Our first pilot was conducted in 2015 for people with multiple sclerosis,” Dr Dorstyn says. “The results, now published in the journal Disability and Rehabilitation, showed significant positive effects on the confidence and mental wellbeing of participants.

“We ran a further controlled trial last year for this group, followed by a second pilot study for Australians with SCI’s. We’re delighted to say that both studies delivered equally pleasing results.”

Covering topics such as managing disability in the workplace, interview preparation and resume writing, the resource is presented as a series of modules, with each including worksheets, hyperlinks, and the opportunity to correspond directly with a psychologist.

“It’s a lot more than just another website,” she adds. “The information goes well beyond just promoting vocational goals, interests and strengths.

“We’re aiming to give people with a chronic illness or disability greater confidence about the job-search process as it applies to them; and teach them new ways to access support from employers and colleagues once they are employed.

“The resource could even become a useful tool for rehabilitation professionals to guide their client discussions and return-to-work plans.”

The online vocational rehabilitation resource is now being promoted by project collaborator Paraquad SA to its members, and possible international research collaborations are currently being explored.

Related links:
Dr Diana Dorstyn – researcher profile
School of Psychology