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Employment plays an important role in one’s sense of purpose as well as physical and emotional health, according to Michael Frain, Ph.D., a professor in the department of counselor education in the College of Education.

But, millions of Americans living with disabilities are not employed, nor do they have ample employment opportunities, Frain said.

Frain’s research and work with counselors at state and federal agencies aims to improve employment struggles, particularly emphasizing the benefits of self-employment for those with disabilities, which can include flexible work hours, reducing transportation and accessibility barriers, and higher hourly wages.

“About 12% of people with disabilities have self-employment, but people don't always know that or see the possibilities,” said Frain, who trains and educates counselors of possibilities, and the logistics and resources to start a business.

“Dr. Frain's research on improving employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities represents an important consideration of human health,” said Gregg Fields, executive director of FAU's Institute for Human Health and Disease Intervention (I-Health).

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Rehabilitation counseling is a bit of an unknown field, said Frain, adding there is a high need for qualified counselors in Florida to help people with disabilities find jobs.

Frain is also a collaborator on a $16.7 million Vocational Rehabilitation Technical Assistance Center-Quality Employment grant from the Rehabilitation Service Administration. Overall, grant will support the creation of a new technical assistance center at the University of Wisconin’s–Madison, which will work to reduce employment barriers nationwide for people with disabilities. Frain’s research will concentrate on self-employment training, as well as changes in independent living, hourly wage, government subsidies and reliance on others.

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Rehabilitation work results in more employment, higher paying jobs on average, better health care, and legislative changes to assure people with disabilities have level playing fields for employment, he said.

“People with disabilities can work, they want to work and, you know, 70% of them aren't working,” Frain said. “People with disabilities can succeed and they can help our economy, they can help your workplace, they are quality employees.”

To help with his intervention and research, Frain was recently awarded two grants.

From the U.S. Department of Education’s Rehabilitating Training Program, he was awarded $1.2 million over five years, which will help fund 12 masters students a year, paying tuition and fees, purchasing a laptop, paying for travel to conferences and giving a $3,500 stipend each semester.

“The demand for master's students in this field is very high,” said Ayse Torres, Ph.D., an assistant professor of clinical rehabilitation counseling, who is also on the grant. “All our students obtain jobs in the rehabilitation field while at school, often by their second semester. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of our students who started our program in the Fall 2020 have already found employment.” ◆