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Stability of Vocational Interests Two Years after Spinal Cord Injury: Relationship with Employment, Participation, and Subjective Well-Being. Field Initiated Research Grant, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, Department of Education; $444,209, October 1, 2003 to September 30, 2006.

Return to gainful employment has been widely endorsed as fundamental rehabilitation goal after the onset of a spinal cord injury (SCI), yet employment rates for people with SCI does rarely exceed 30%. This high unemployment rate is generally attributed to the dramatic 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.  Unfortunately, research has shown that SCI often selectively occurs to people whose interests are in physically challenging activities that may no longer possible given the physical limitations imposed by SCI.  The impact of no longer being able to perform intrinsically rewarding activities not only poses a threat to success return to work, but also to overall participation in society and subjective well-being.

The primary objectives of this study are to identify how much interests change in the first two 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 those who were youngest and those whose interests are the most incongruent with their physical limitations, particularly those with the most severe SCIs, (b) interests will change in the direction of greater congruence with SCI limitations, and (c) those 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.

Two year follow-up data will be collected on approximately 265 participants with traumatic SCI who were a minimum of 16 years old at the first interview. The preliminary data is currently being collected as part of the Georgia Regional Model SCI Systems. To date, 108 participants have completed an assessment battery, including the Strong Interest Inventory, an average of 53 days after SCI onset. At the current participation rate (11 per month), a total of 330 will participate in stage 1 of the study over the 30 months of data collection with a projected 80% response rate for stage 2. Participants will be administered a repeat Strong Interest Inventory (SII), the measure of interests and interests change, as well a detailed employment history and measures of participation (Craig Handicapped Assessment Reporting Technique), subjective well-being (Life Situation Questionnaire-Revised) and depressive symptoms (Adult Health and Mood Questionnaire). Measures of interest change will include stability coefficients and 3-point shifts in the SII scales. Interest change and will be compared as a function of primary interest type, injury severity, age, gender, and race-ethnicity. Analysis of variance, Pearson correlations, and multiple regression will be used to test the study hypotheses.

By helping rehabilitation professionals to better understand the relationships of interests and interests change with employment, participation and well-being, this study will lay a foundation for intervention strategies that will maximize opportunities for participation help people with SCI to lead fulfilling and happy lives.

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