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UTEP Team to Help Improve Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities

Researchers will study employment barriers for veterans, Asian Americans with disabilities

EL PASO, Texas (Jan. 9, 2024) – Connecting people with disabilities to employment opportunities can be nuanced and challenging. In 2022, nearly eight in ten of people with a disability were not in the labor force, and of those who were, only 21% were employed, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Now, researchers at The University of Texas at El Paso are working to improve employment among members of the population.

Beatrice Lee, Ph.D., A woman standing to pose for a photo. In the background is a grassy area known as UTEP's Centennial Plaza
Beatrice Lee, Ph.D (pictured above) is the grant's PI who will, in partnership with her co-PI, Emre Umucu, Ph.D., work to improve employment among veterans and Asian Americans with disabilities.

College of Health Sciences faculty members Beatrice Lee, Ph.D., and Emre Umucu, Ph.D., have been awarded a $240,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to study employment barriers among veterans and Asian Americans with disabilities in hopes of improving outcomes.

“It is a privilege for us to work on this grant together and help people realize the value they offer to society,” Lee said.

The grant is part of a larger award, led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in which teams of researchers at universities across the country analyze the efficacy of state and local entities, such as vocation rehabilitation agencies and Veterans Affairs, that help individuals with disabilities secure employment. The research teams at each participating university will focus on a different segment of the population and work with agencies to design and implement training and programming that expands these entities’ outreach and drives people with disabilities to engage with the available employment-related services.

Lee, an assistant professor of rehabilitation sciences and the grant’s principal investigator, will center her work on Asian Americans with disabilities, with a focus on helping agencies strengthen their cultural competencies as it relates to the demographic. According to Lee, who specializes in neurological disorders, stress management and positive psychology, Asian Americans with disabilities engage far less with the employment-related services offered by local and state agencies.

“In this particular culture, a lot of times, the lack of engagement is related to the individual’s desire to not bring shame upon their family,” said Lee. “In many Asian cultures, family is a central piece of their lives, so they don’t want to be a burden or risk the shame of people outside the family knowing they navigate a disability.”

Umucu, who serves as associate dean for research, associate professor of public health and director of the Research, Evaluation and Academic Center on Health Disparities, has focused his career on collaborating with local, federal, national and international agencies to create innovative solutions to complex health and community concerns that impact veterans with chronic conditions. Through the grant, he will work with vocation rehabilitation agencies to enhance the quality of employment outcomes for veterans with disabilities.

For Umucu, this entails that veterans do not simply obtain a job but acquire employment that maximizes their skillset and builds new capabilities.

“We’re going to look at the barriers that exist in helping connect veterans to the right job, whether it be a lack of access to employment-related services or a need to better understand the physical and psychiatric factors that come with veterans’ disabilities,” Umucu said. “By creating a clearer picture of the elements that impact successful integration into the workplace, state and local agencies can provide veterans with disabilities the services needed to succeed in their civilian life.”

For both Lee and Umucu, who have been colleagues since their days as graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, this grant represents an opportunity to expand their work in promoting the well-being of people with disabilities.

Lee said, “As professors and counselors, it’s rewarding to see the impact our work can have in helping individuals build their self-confidence and lead happier lives with careers they are happy with and supported in.”

About The University of Texas at El Paso

The University of Texas at El Paso is America’s leading Hispanic-serving university. Located at the westernmost tip of Texas, where three states and two countries converge along the Rio Grande, 84% of our 24,000 students are Hispanic, and more than half are the first in their families to go to college. UTEP offers 171 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs at the only open-access, top-tier research university in America.



Last Updated on January 09, 2024 at 12:00 AM | Originally published January 09, 2024

By MC Staff UTEP Marketing and Communications