cation, region, and baseline household income; Hispanic ethnicity, residential environment, and household type were not associated with maintaining employment among persons with disabilities. Interestingly, the principal work-related factor affecting whether persons with disabilities maintained employment was the industry in which they worked, whereas the principal work-related factor affecting whether persons without disabilities did so was their occupation. This suggests that the probability that persons with disabilities will be able to keep working after the onset of impairment is determined to a large extent by the welfare of the industries in which they work, rather than their own characteristics. The welfare of persons without disabilities, in contrast, is tied to a greater extent to their personal background. Expanding industries will find a way to accommodate the needs of their workers with disabilities, level of impairment notwithstanding.

Thus, the question of how to assess functional capacity for work cannot be asked abstractly. Instead, it must be asked assuming a strong demand for labor and the presence of reasonable accommodation, as mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (West, 1991). Nevertheless, even when these conditions are met, many individuals will not be working, suggesting that it may be possible to describe a core set of functional requirements that apply even when the demand for labor is strong. Although the capacity to “tote that barge and lift that bale” still applies to some jobs, increasingly the core competencies would appear to revolve around the ability to communicate, concentrate, interact with others, learn new tasks, and be flexible in how and with whom work gets done (Osterman, 1988). This is true even when a job demands the capacity for toting and lifting, but it is especially true in the growth sectors of the economy in which the physical demands of work may be minimal.


O*Net6 (Occupational Information Network) has been developed under a contract from the Department of Labor to replace the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) as the principal way of assessing the functional demands of jobs (Peterson et al., 1996). The purpose of O*Net was twofold: (1) to create an on-line database of work requirements in order to provide job information in an accessible format and one that can be readily updated, and (2) to provide a listing of job characteristics that reflect the


This discussion is based in part on a discussion with our colleague Ms. Katie Maslow, but any errors of fact or interpretation are our own.

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