. "Persons with Disabilities and Demands of the Contemporary Labor Market." The Dynamics of Disability: Measuring and Monitoring Disability for Social Security Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2002.
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The Dynamics of Disability: Measuring and Monitoring Disability for Social Security Programs
contemporary economy. The DOT characterized jobs on the basis of the complexity of dealing with data, people, and things. O*Net characterizes both the attributes of occupations and the characteristics of the people who fill each job. Data are collected on six separate dimensions: (1) experience requirements (training, experience, licensing); (2) worker requirements (functional skills, general knowledge, and education); (3) worker characteristics (abilities, interests, and work styles); (4) occupation characteristics (labor market information, occupational outlook, and wages); (5) occupational requirements (work activities, work context, and organizational context); and (6) occupation-specific information (knowledge required to do an occupation, occupational skills, and the specific tasks on the job). The data for O*Net derive from a survey of job analysts and from interviews with persons in each occupation (The latter source will include a greater number of characteristics than the former, but the data will be available later.). In both instances, respondents will be asked to report the level of each characteristic on a scale; the average level among all respondents for each characteristic will be disseminated.
A thorough description of O*Net and of how it may be used is beyond the scope of this paper, as is a listing of its shortcomings with respect to assessment of the functional capacity of applicants for disability benefits. For the former, suffice it to state that O*Net has the capacity to capture the complexity of each job through the diversity of the dimensions measured and the heightened pace of change in the nature of each job. For the latter, suffice it to state that O*Net’s principal limitation is its reliance on the average level among respondents for each job characteristic, while those adjudicating applications for disability benefits need to assess minimal requirements on each such characteristic. However, in capturing the complexity of the modern job, O*Net solves one problem for those assessing capacity for work (providing a contemporary model of work), while raising another (providing no easy method to assess which among six dimensions and 300 specific characteristics are the essential functions of a job and which, therefore, are central to an assessment of functional capacity).
Indeed, this conundrum is not unique to the situation facing those who would adjudicate applications for disability benefits. In assessing whether employers are in compliance with the employment requirements of the ADA, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is asked to assess whether an individual can perform a job’s essential function, but the law provides little guidance in how to determine what such a function is (Jones, 1991). If we are right that an increasing proportion of jobs involve complexity and dynamism in tasks, competencies, and relationships with colleagues, then it necessarily follows that a system to assess functional capacity must take this complexity into account today and incorporate the ability to measure—if not predict—changes in these char-