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8th Annual Estabrook Lecture Presented by Paul Wehman, PhD

 "Employment and Return to Work for Individuals With Significant Disabilities: How Far Have We Come." 

February 9, 2010

The 8th annual Kenneth L. Estabrook Distinguished Scientist Lectureship was held by Kessler Foundation on March 5, 2010. More than one hundred medical and rehabilitation professionals, as well as other interested parties, heard Paul Wehman, PhD, discuss "Employment and Return to Work for People with Significant Disabilities: How Far Have We Come?"

The Estabrook family sat in the front row. Kenneth Estabrook (1924-2003), a NJ lawyer, served as a trustee, vice president, and president of Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation from 1967-1986. From Dr. Henry H. Kessler, he learned how critical comprehensive rehabilitation was to recovery. Estabrook was also chairman of the Kessler Rehabilitation Corporation and a member of the Board of Trustees for Kessler Foundation and Kessler Foundation Research Center. His wife, Anne, established this lectureship in 2001 to commemorate his 75th birthday.

Dr. Wehman, professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation and executive director of the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center at Virginia Commonwealth University, focused on the importance of "real jobs for real pay" for people with disabilities. Although we've seen gains as a results of the ADA, advances in assistive technology and promising job models, the needs are still tremendous, He described the issue as one of unfulfilled potential -- approximately 65% of Americans with disabilities are unemployed, and many more are underemployed. Despite the economy, Wehman believes that nearly all people with disabilities can find and keep meaningful, competitive jobs through networking and supported employment.

While social and business networking helps locate opportunities, support services help keep people on the job. Having a job coach remain in communication with the employee and the employer to ensure that needs of both are being met, reassures employers about hiring someone with a disability. Employers find that everyone benefits when people with disabilities are integrated into the workplace.

Wehman also explained that the government run benefits programs, such as SSI/SSDI and Medicaid, need to be simplified to encourage work. He's seen people with disabilities who are afraid of losing their benefits and not getting them back in the event that they are no longer able to work. To rectify this problem, Wehman suggested letting people work and keep their SSI until they're 35 years old; after that, the SSI can be scaled back every five years. As far as Medicaid coverage, he believes everyone with a disability should have access to the program, despite employment and income.

Wehman would especially like a mandate in place that students with disabilities must have work experience before leaving high school. Citing a recent study, Wehman reported that, "High school students, with and without disabilities, who participated in two or more work-related experiences in high school were more likely to obtain competitive employment one year after graduation, than their peers who did not have work-related experiences during high school." He cited internships as an important way for people with disabilities to explore job and career opportunities.

By working for pay, people with disabilities learn they can work, build a strong work ethic, and improve their quality of life. "It's hard to underestimate the economic, social and therapeutic value of work," said Wehman. "In our society, it's hugely defining."

At the conclusion of the lecture, John DeLuca, PhD, and vice president for research at Kessler Foundation's Research Center, presented Wehman with a commemorative plaque acknowledging his distinction as an Estabrook Lecturer.

About Kessler Foundation

Kessler Foundation strives to be a leader in rehabilitation research and grant making that benefit people with disabilities. The Foundation's mission is to improve quality of life for people with physical disabilities through discovery, innovation, demonstration, application, and dissemination. Kessler Foundation Research Center conducts research that improves function and quality of life for persons with injuries of the spinal cord and brain, stroke, multiple sclerosis and other chronic neurological and orthopedic conditions. Kessler Foundation also supports programs that promote the employment of people with disabilities through its Program Center's "Transition to Work" Signature and Community Employment Grants. The Foundation's Special Initiative Grants support educational programs like 'ThinkFirst', an injury prevention program aimed at children and teens. Kessler Foundation has a full-time staff of 90 individuals, divided between two locations in West Orange, New Jersey.

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