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The impact of supported employment on the mental health and well-being of people with learning difficulties

Sheila Riddell, Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh
Co-author(s): Pauline Banks, Strathclyde Centre for Disability Research, University of Glasgow; Andrew Jahoda, Section of Psychological Medicine, University of Glasgow, Wendy Kerr; Learning Disability Partnership, Glasgow and Victoria Williams, Strathclyde Centre for Disability Research, University of Glasgow

Full paper (word doc)

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This paper reports on early findings from research funded by the Scottish Executive Chief Scientist Office, which investigates the impact of supported employment on the lives of people with learning difficulties. The project runs from October 2002 - March 2005. Forty five supported employment participants are being been followed over a nine month period and data are being gathered on the perspectives of supported employment participants, key workers, significant others and employers. The paper begins with a brief review of the supported employment literature. Earlier literature, particularly that produced in the North American context, presented a very positive view of supported employment, arguing that it produced significant social and financial benefits for participants. This literature was often explicitly or implicitly located with a theoretical perspective of normalisation, emphasising that the route to inclusion for people with learning difficulties is through the adoption of valued social roles. Normalisation has been criticised as inherently conservative, since it places the onus on the disabled person to accommodate to the 'normalising gaze'. More recent analyses of supported employment (Riddell et al, 1999, Wilson, 2003) have developed a social model critique, noting that unless adjustments are made to the workplace environment, in line with the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act, many supported employment placements are likely to break down or result in only marginal benefits. In this paper, the following questions are addressed: (i) How is the purpose of supported employment articulated by a range of actors? (ii) What are the apparent benefits of supported employment according to a range of actors? (iii) What are the key elements which appear to have an impact on supported employment outcomes? What are the subjective experiences of supported employment as reported by people with learning disabilities? In the light of these contrasting perspectives, some tentative conclusions will be drawn in relation to a social model reading of supported employment.

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