Randall Owen, PhD
Research Assistant Professor, Department of Disability and Human Development, UIC
Dr. Randall Owen is a Research Assistant Professor at UIC, with the central focus of his research being the impact of policies on the lives of people with disabilities. His Ph.D. dissertation topic covered the experiences of all people with disabilities who lived in liberal welfare states. His work and focus of study related to how reforms impact the lives of people with disabilities. His study also covers healthcare and education reforms in relation to their impacts on people living with intellectual and other disabilities.
The doctoral dissertation of Dr. Owen focused on work-related welfare reforms in three countries, including the United States. These welfare-to-work reforms focus on providing incapacity benefits to the citizens of their respective countries. Reforms are designed to bridge the employment gaps experienced by people with disabilities. Additionally, living with a disability amounts to higher living costs and lower pay grades compared to other community members. Therefore, the motive behind employment reforms is to bridge this disparity in pay grades and opportunities while increasing the feeling of social security. It is also primarily made to reduce the poverty rates among the disabled, which tend to be higher due to the disparities mentioned above.
The welfare-to-work policies are targeted toward the general population, where including people with different disabilities is not always the primary concern. The data about people with disabilities varies because there are many disabilities, all of which are recorded differently. Among the welfare population, applying these policies to people with a disability becomes particularly challenging since a proper estimation is difficult to derive.
In addition to the disparity in data, the focus of the policies is also on people who are ready to jump at employment opportunities. Since many recipients of these job opportunities are ready to serve, other citizens are automatically sidelined since they either have disabilities or are caregivers to a family member with a disability. Newer policies plan on making concessions so that the latter category does not have to undergo job training in order to be eligible for employment.
Previously put in the hard-to-serve category, policymakers are now considering the barriers to the experiences of people with disabilities in order to provide them with appropriate working opportunities. The primary focus here is to look into the needs of people with disability so that the service strategies are tailored to their requirements.
The targeted impact of these strategies on the citizens is to provide ample work opportunities irrespective of the disability of the recipient. The eventual result should leave the recipient with a feeling of satisfaction and an experience of self-sufficiency through financial independence. These policies also involve work opportunities for caregivers to help them maintain autonomy while they take responsibility for a loved one with a disability.
Many states have broadened their eligibility criteria, including offering postponements and other related concessions, so participation in training programs or other activities is not mandatory. If people with disabilities were forced to work under the same eligibility conditions, the barrier to employment opportunities would have widened.
Broadening the criteria is not the same as making the eligibility universal. The lack of universal acceptance is because the opportunities are presented on a case-by-case basis where the eligibility of the candidate is assessed as per the job profile. Case Workers assess the requirement from the job description to find compatibility with the need for self-sufficiency.
The requirement of participation, not only in the training program but also in the daily needs of the job, can also be assessed by licensed medical professionals. The impact of a particular employment opportunity on the health of a disabled person can be evaluated. The capability of an individual will be judged on the physical and mental capacity determined by their health condition.
In case any of the welfare-to-work policies come forth with universal eligibility criteria, the experience of people with disability may be challenging compared to other community members. In such a case, it is essential to be transparent about the path to self-sufficiency. In such a scenario, the required activities and training may be waived or may be universally mandated.
While universal or broadened selection criteria in employment due to work-related reforms positively impact people living with disabilities, it is not necessarily less challenging. The road to self-sufficiency depends on the extent of disability and the capacity of an individual to undertake the job responsibilities, whether they are federally mandated or waived off. Applying parallel employment policies may also provide a positive experience when it comes to independence.