Carrying Out Work & Research With an Intellectual Disability

A research project currently being carried out by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) is examining how intellectually disabled people experience the process of entering and contributing to the working world. In contrast to the few comparable studies - which tend to adopt the perspective of professionals - this project focuses on the actual experiences of the individuals affected. As part of the project, people with intellectual disabilities are also involved in the interpretation of the data as "experts in their own field".

"Experts in their own field" - People with intellectual disabilities in a current project of the FWF © Use of this photo for editorial purposes is free of charge, subject to attribution: Gottfried Biewer

Although various projects have demonstrated that people with intellectual disabilities can hold their own in the mainstream job market if given appropriate help and assistance, in Austria they are reliant almost exclusively on sheltered employment facilities offering work therapy and occupational therapy. This unsatisfactory situation is due in no small part to a lack of social awareness and also to the absence of appropriate and fundamental scientific research. A project by the Faculty of Philosophy and Educational Sciences at the University of Vienna is now seeking to establish the data platform so urgently required for this.

Participating in the World of Work
As head of the study, Prof. Gottfried Biewer of the Department of Education and Human Development at the University of Vienna outlines the ambitious aim of this extensive project in a few short words: "We are collecting and analysing the subjective experiences of intellectually disabled people during their time in the working world and also during the transition period between school and work. These experiences are often marked by slights and rejections, despite representatives of the educational and social sector acting with the very best of intentions. That is why it's so important to speak to the individuals themselves and to use this data to build up a picture of their lives, taking into account the personal, family and work environments."

Career & Research
This research is primarily a long-term study which focuses intensively on the participation experiences of two groups representing different stages in life. One group represents young school-leavers who go through a problematic period of transition before finding a role in the working world that often corresponds neither to expectations nor potential. The second is made up of adults who have rarely been able to gain acceptance on the regular job market and whose working activities are viewed as work and occupational therapy. The participatory research will concentrate predominantly on the data for this long-term study. Disabled people offer their own interpretations of statements made in interviews, and often help to expand the views of the professional researchers in unexpected ways. This activity will also be examined as part of the research project and reviewed from an epistemological perspective.

Data on the Job Market
In addition to entering new territory in the realm of methodology, the study is also using conventional methods to collect extensive data on the relevant job market. A full census of structural data on sheltered employment and data on how intellectually disabled people can access support services relating to the job market is to be carried out at the beginning of the year. Ideally, details of all Austrian schoolchildren with intellectual disabilities who leave school in 2009 and enter the working world will also be recorded as part of an ongoing analysis. This will take place from spring onwards. Prof. Biewer is delighted by the considerable interest public bodies and organisations representing disabled people have expressed in these plans. The plans focus exclusively on data that could provide the foundations for planning in the social and educational sector but has never yet been recorded systematically in Austria. As a result, the programme of nationwide data collection is supported by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Social Affairs and Consumer Protection and the Federal Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture. The project's integration into the teaching and research activities of the university has proved helpful. Dr. Helga Fasching, who works on the project alongside Oliver Koenig and Petra Pinetz (who are funded by third parties), comments: "We can only cope with the scope of the data collection by involving a large number of students who can use their degree dissertations to make an important contribution to gathering data while also demonstrating their methodological skills."

Scientific Contact
Prof. Gottfried Biewer
University of Vienna
Department of Education and Human Development
Universitätsstr. 7
1010 Vienna
Austria
T +43 / 1 / 4277 - 46800
gottfried.biewer(at)univie.ac.at

Austrian Science Fund (FWF)
Mag. Stefan Bernhardt

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