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The Dynamics of Disability: Measuring and Monitoring Disability for Social Security Programs
and the information developed by job analysts is not always consistent with the views of workers’ supervisors. The Bureau of Labor Statistics conducts employer surveys that try to define the characteristics of a job that affect its pay levels, but even there measurement difficulties sometimes exist. In addition, from the perspective of the worker—as with a disabled individual—it is often a bundle of capabilities that the worker brings to the job that makes the work experience a success or a failure.
Workers with the same educational backgrounds have different skills, work ethics, and orientations to work. These in turn bring a different bundle of capabilities to a job, and their performance is affected by those capabilities. In addition, the task of developing a set of factors that capture the essence of each occupation that makes practical sense is complex and difficult. Clearly, a great deal more careful research and experimentation is required to evaluate what functional capacity to work really means and exactly how it would be applied to persons with disabilities.
When the committee reviewed SSA’s redesign research plan, there were no indications in the plan that the gaps in O*NET will be carefully considered and no specific research to fill those gaps was identified. The committee, therefore, had recommended that SSA should develop an interim plan for an occupational information classification system until a more permanent solution is found. The committee also suggested that SSA enter into an interagency arrangement with the DOL to initiate a version of O*NET that would collect information on minimum, in addition to average, job requirements to better serve SSA’s needs to assess ability to engage in SGA.
Subsequent to the committee’s interim report, SSA revised the work requirements of its original task order contract on integration, synthesis, and development of the redesign process to focus solely on a comprehensive assessment of O*NET as a replacement data source for the current decision process. SSA did not necessarily expect this work to produce a comprehensive resolution to the problem. It believed, however, that it must complete such an analysis to move forward (SSA, 1999b).
The final report of the contractor (AIR, 2000) identified several positive and negative aspects associated with O*NET’s incorporation into SSA’s disability determination process. Some of the positive aspects identified include the ability to (1) obtain consensus from a variety of sources on the set of 54 O*NET descriptors appropriate for use in SSA’s disability decision process; (2) ascertain the number and identity of occupational units that are represented at various intervals of the descriptors’ rating scales; (3) determine if the occupational units are sufficiently representative for SSA’s use; (4) identify 33 occupational units that contain at least one sedentary or unskilled job, as defined by DOT, representing approximately 3 percent of the 1,122 occupational units in O*NET; and (5) provide excellent descriptions of occupations in the task lists that decision