Conference article

The importance of work for people with intellectual disabilities. A presentation of a unique inclusive research about the meaning of work

Minne Bakker
Disability Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Education Coordinator, The Netherlands

Sofie Sergeant
Disability Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Education Coordinator, The Netherlands

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Published in: Proceedings from InnArbeid International Conference on work inclusion for persons with intellectual disabilities 2019, Kristiansand, Norway 23rd May 2019

Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings 160:3, p. 22-23

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Published: 2019-06-17

ISBN: 978-91-7685-017-6

ISSN: 1650-3686 (print), 1650-3740 (online)


With the ageing and the upcoming dejuvenation of the working population there is a widely spread adage ‘Everybody should work’ (Winsemius et al., 2010). Research has shown that work is important for all individuals, as it generates income and financial independence, social status, daily rhythm and ‘meaning in life’ (Verhoef, 2015). Having a paid job contributes to participation in the plural (modern) world (Van Gent et al., 2008). This means that work is a domain of participation as well as a participation goal in itself.

Over 30 percent of the Dutch working population (aged 16-65 years) reports a (selfdeclared) chronic health condition, including physical and mental health conditions (Detaille et al., 2010), of which 14 percent were registered with work-related disabilities directly impacting their ability to find or maintain a job (CBS, 2015). People with a work-related disability, who are (partly) able to work, often have difficulties finding and maintaining a job. Figures from CBS (2017) show that people with a disability with work capacity have less often a permanent contract or paid work at all, compared to people without work restrictions. People with a disability are more often unemployed and are more often discriminated on the labor market (Ravaud et al., 1992). People with intellectual disabilities (ID) belong to one of the groups of people who experience great difficulty finding and maintaining a job, partly due to stigmatization and prejudices of employers (Hernandez et al., 2000). In the Netherlands, approximately 1 % of the population has an intellectual disability (numbers depend on the definition) (Wottiez, 2014; Rass, Verbeek-Oudijk & Eggink, 2013), impacting their ability to work.

Getting hired has advantages for the person with a work-related disability (Leufstadius et al., 2009). Research shows that people with a disability perceived earning a salary, being part of a group of workmates, developing a feeling of normality, contributing to society, acceptance, structure, feeling competent, strengthening identity, better health and increased self-esteem, as advantages of having a job (Leufstadius et al., 2009). Not only people with disabilities profit from working. Also their colleagues profit from the presence of people with disabilities in their team. Research shows that a number of positive impacts can be identified: positive impact on workforce morale, good level of productivity, better accommodation and practices benefitting all employees (International Labour Office, 2014). Although several studies have looked into the meaning of work, the perspective of people with intellectual disabilities is hardly exposed. Most studies have focused on people with mental, physical or learning disabilities, leaving a gap regarding the experiences of people with ID.

In our study we have addressed the perceptions of people with an intellectual disability regarding the meaning of work (either paid or unpaid). We used the method of the Drawing Lab to gain insight into their perspective on the meaning of work. In the Drawing Lab people are interviewed without raising questions. They follow their own drawing as a guideline in the interview. Besides giving insights into the results of the Drawing Lab (Sergeant & Verreyt 2016; Peels & Sergeant, 2018), we discuss from a conceptual framework what is needed to increase work participation of people with disabilities.


Work participation, intellectual disability, inclusive research, creative research methods


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