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Helping Americans with Disabilities Stay at Work or Return to Work


  • The government wants to help Americans with disabilities keep working.
  • Abt built knowledge and developed research and evaluation design options.
  • We offered five options to expand on limited existing evidence.
The Challenge

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) wants to help Americans stay at or return to work after experiencing an injury or illness that limits their ability to work.

Abt is helping the DOL learn which Stay at Work or Return to Work (SAW/RTW)  interventions can most effectively and cost-efficiently keep workers at their jobs or at least in the labor force.

The Approach

Several types of agencies (e.g., workforce, vocational rehabilitation, workers’ compensation) operate SAW/RTW programs. These programs include interventions such as case coordination, counseling, training, and financial incentives. Abt’s study:

  • Summarized current program models and strategies
  • Synthesized the literature to identify evidence-based models
  • Studied characteristics of the target population and myriad programs with which workers engage following an injury or illness
  • Developed designs for five research and evaluation options, offering DOL recommendations for generating high-quality evidence for SAW/RTW strategies in the field.
The Results

We found that existing SAW/RTW programs vary in their design, but the evidence of their impact is limited. Existing studies often have limited internal and external validity. Following onset of an injury or illness, about 80 percent of workers engage with the health care system, suggesting health care may offer a promising touchpoint for intervention.

Of our five strategies to expand evidence on SAW/RTW interventions, three would provide information to workers, employers, or medical professionals; a fourth would test partial disability insurance payments; and a fifth would construct a new data source to support descriptive analyses of the target population.