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Stability of Vocational Interests Five Years after Spinal Cord Injury:

Relationship with Employment, Participation, and Subjective Well-Being.

Submitted to the National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative services (OSERS) United States Department of Education.


Return to gainful employment has been widely endorsed as a fundamental rehabilitation goal after the onset of a spinal cord injury (SCI), yet employment rates for people with SCI rarely exceed 30%. This low employment rate is generally attributed to the impact of SCI on ability to perform job functions requiring physical strength and dexterity.  However, successful employment is related to both the extent to which the individual is able to perform the needed job functions and the degree to which the job environment and job tasks are intrinsically interesting to the individual.  Research has shown that SCI selectively occurs to people who engage in particular types of high-risk activities and whose interests often are in physically challenging activities that may not be feasible after SCI.  No longer being able to perform intrinsically rewarding activities poses a threat to successful return to work and to overall participation in society and subjective well-being.

The primary objectives of this study are to identify how much interests change in the five years after SCI onset, factors related to change, and the extent to which interest type and interest change are associated with employment, participation and subjective well-being.  It is hypothesized that: (a) the greatest interest change will occur among individuals who were younger and individuals whose interests are the most incongruent with their physical limitations, (b) interests will change in the direction of greater congruence with SCI limitations, and (c) individuals with congruent interests will be more likely to return to gainful employment, have higher levels of participation and subjective well-being, and a lower incidence of depressive symptoms.

Five year follow-up data will be requested from 462 participants with traumatic SCI who completed an assessment battery, including the Strong Interest Inventory, during their inpatient rehabilitation hospitalization an average of 52 days after SCI onset. The preliminary data were collected as part of the Georgia Regional Model SCI Systems. Subsequent follow-ups are being conducted at 1 and 2 years post-injury. We project 308 repeat respondents at five years post-injury. Participants will be re-administered the Strong Interest Inventory (SII) to measure interests and interest change. Additional  measures will assess  employment history, the Craig Handicap Assessment and  Reporting Technique (CHART) will measure participation,  the Life Situation Questionnaire-Revised(LSQ-R) will measure subjective well-being, and the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) will measure depressive symptoms. Indicators of interest change will include stability coefficients and 5-point shifts in the SII scales. Interest change will be compared as a function of primary interest type, injury severity, age, gender, and race-ethnicity. Analysis of variance, Pearson correlations, and multiple regressions will be used to test the study hypotheses.

Gaining a better understanding the role of interests, ability to act upon interests, and their relationships with employment, participation and well-being is essential if rehabilitation professionals and vocational counselors are to successfully help consumers with SCI maximize their participation and lead fulfilling lives.

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