The place of individuals with disabilities in professional-level occupations heightens the already alarming quantitative nature of the employment problems by adding a disturbing qualitative dimension. Professional-level employment provides benefits beyond those associated with work in general. Status, influence, and importance within society, as well as personal rewards such as self-esteem and greater income, accompany employment in the professions. These benefits, and the power and responsibility of the positions themselves, allow holders of such occupations to exercise significant levels of independence and self-determination. Yet research indicates that access to such benefits and opportunities has been limited for individuals with disabilities (de Balcazar, Bradford, and Fawcett 1988; Gottfredson, Finucci, and Childs 1984; Johnson and Hafer 1985; Kiernan and Ciborowski 1986; Moores 1969; Pfouts and Nixon 1982; Smith 1988; Zetlin and Hosseini 1989).
The consequences of such a situation are serious for both people with disabilities and society. Limited professional opportunities underemploy the abilities of individuals with disabilities to their and society's detriment. Lower placement rates in professions deny an appropriate share of responsibility and influence to people with disabilities. Those professions are denied the unique perspectives of those individuals. The situation stifles the aspirations of people with disabilities, affecting their opportunities to exercise self-determination more easily and, because of the financial implications, meaningful independence. The missing presence of sufficient numbers of individuals with disabilities in professions will always signal that society has not achieved full integration for this group of people.
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