Changing the term “job placement” to reflect choice

Changing the term “job placement” to reflect choice

Erin C. Martz

The term “job placement” has been utilized in rehabilitation counseling for decades to depict the process in which the counselor assists individuals with disabilities to obtain employment. Because the word “placement” denotes a directional relationship implying that the rehabilitation counselor or professional retains the power to put individuals with disabilities into employment settings, the author suggests that the usage of the term “job placement” should be modified. Alternate phrases are proposed to reflect that “job placement” requires active choice by individuals with disabilities and that the ultimate choice of working or not belongs to individuals with disabilities, no matter what jobs the counselor or rehabilitation professional may arrange for them.


Using “person first” language hen referencing people with disabilities is accepted as a professional standard in rehabilitation, as evident in language of the Code of Professional Ethics for Rehabilitation Counselors (Roessler & Rubin, 1998) and in psychology, as evident from the publication guidelines (American Psychological Association, 1994). Yet, the rehabilitation profession continues to use the term “job placement” to describe the process in which the counselor or rehabilitation professional assists individuals with disabilities to obtain employment, as it has for decades (Bridges, 1946). Because “job placement” carries a negative, patronizing connotation for persons with disabilities (Greenwood, 1982) and denotes a directional relationship or a linear “from-to” concept that implies that the counselor retains the power over individuals with disabilities to put them into jobs, it is proposed that this term should be replaced by a more appropriate phrase.

This proposed change fundamentally parallels the “person-first” argument that an individual should be described as a person with a disability (Blaska 1993; Manus, 1975; Kailes, 1985; Wright, 1960). Just as the phrase “person with a disability” is a “psychologically sounder expression” (Wright, 1960, p. 7), an individual in the rehabilitation process also should be identified verbally as a person making a choice to accept a job and, consequently, as a person actively partaking in the employment process. The term “placement” denotes a passivity, depicting the individual as someone who is put into a job by the counselor or rehabilitation professional. Not only does “placement” imply that the professional has the power in the rehabilitation counseling relationship, but this directional term of “placement” does not reflect that in any job opportunity, an individual actively chooses to start to work, to continue to work, or not to work in that specific job.

Philosophy of lob Placement

“Placement” can be defined as “the constellation of rehabilitation services that relate to employment and integration into the workplace” (Vandergoot, Staniszewski, & Merlo, 1992, pp. 305-306). “Placement” is depicted as “the logical conclusion of the rehabilitation process” because “the end goal of the vocational rehabilitation process is the achievement of an occupational objective” (Roessler & Rubin, 1998, p. 157). The techniques used by rehabilitation professionals to assist with the integration of individuals with disabilities into the workforce and with the achievement of an occupational and/or career objective have evolved and expanded over the decades. The focus of this section is not on the range of methods available to achieve employment; nor is it on the term used to describe the rehabilitation professional or counselor who is helping the client with employment issues. Instead, the philosophies underlying the methods of “job placement” will be briefly reviewed, in order to further emphasize the need to identify this important function in a more positive way, which would more accurately describe the active role played by the consumer in his vocational rehabilitation.

The benefits of two types of job placement philosophies have been debated since the 1970’s (Vandergoot et al., 1992). The philosophy of the “counselor-centered placement” model can be described as a view that “clients require counselor intervention in the community to successfully secure and retain employment,” due to its philosophy of person-job matching in which the rehabilitation professional assesses both the individual and the work environment (Salomone, 1996, p. 399). Examples of counselor-centered interventions include the broader categories of selective placement, transitional employment, supported employment, and the “placement” techniques of job development, negotiations with employers, arranging job coaches, and other advocacy measures that are deemed necessary for successful closure of the case (Salomone, 1996). As Vandergoot et al. noted (1992, p. 309), Rehabilitation professionals now have more tooIs to change environments than ever before’ with the explosion of technology that can be used to assist individuals with severe disabilities in the workplace.

While recognizing that individuals with more severe disabilities often need more counselor intervention in the community, Salomone (1996, p. 399) criticizes the philosophy of counselor-driven, person-job matching as “fostering dependency, rather than empowering people to claim (or reclaim) their lives.” Further, Salomone (p. 405) argues that the counselor-centered techniques of “marketing” individuals with disabilities to employers, as if the individuals were “products,” highlights the “absolutely fundamental” difference between counselor-centered and client-centered placement. The selective placement approach of counselor-centered rehabilitation counseling also can be described as more of a “directive approach,” due to the necessity of assessing the person and the environment to facilitate good matches between people and jobs (Vandergoot, 1992, p. 308).

Client-centered placement has some similarities with counselor-centered placement, such as the continued support of the individual and expertise in the employment process proffered by the counselor Yet, client-centered placement is depicted as a distinct philosophy that is based on a psycho-educational model of helping individuals discover their inner resources and their own abilities to obtain jobs (Salomone 1996). Thus, client-centered placement “seeks to empower clients to take charge of their own lives; to become their own best advocates and change-agents; to develop the requisite attitudes and skills to succeed in securing and maintaining, and then to adjust, adapt and advance in their careers” (Salomone, 1996, p. 410). In client-centered rehabilitation counseling, counselors act as “facilitators of client self-sufficiency and self-esteem; encouragers and supporters of client self-directed behaviors; teachers of skills for living in a complex society” (Salomone, 1996, p. 399).

Whether one chooses to agree with the philosophy of client-centered or counselor-centered placement is not essential for understanding the argument central to this article. Yet, knowledge of the distinct “placement” philosophies can serve to heighten the awareness of why “placement” is a term that should be replaced in the rehabilitation profession. Both of the client-centered and counselor-centered philosophies utilize the term “placement” with equivalent semantics. In both philosophies, the term “job placement” semantically suggests a linear concept of the counselor putting individuals with disabilities into jobs. To abbreviate Salomone’s question (1996, p. 406), “What message is sent to people who are `placed’ … ?”

Individual Choice

The Americans with Disabilities Act, by its very name and its contents, acknowlegdes that individuals with disabilities are people first and should not be discriminated against because of their disabilities. Political support and awareness of “client choice” in the rehabilitation process is increasing, as reflected by the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992 (Danek, Conyers et al., 1996). The acknowledgment of “client choice” is a “person-first” philosophy in disguise: “client choice” is a recognition that all individuals, no matter how severe their disabilities, are people first and foremost and therefore should be permitted to choose the path of their lives. The next step to reflect this awareness of individual choice would be to use a term that linguistically represents the concept that an individual makes a continuous choice in obtaining work (or not) while in the “placement” process.

Even though counselors or rehabilitation professionals may find job openings or negotiate with employers to create positions for clients, clients still have the freedom of choice to refuse these positions. Hence, the term “placement” inappropriately suggests that the counselor puts a passive individual into a work position. Even if the individual does minimal work to obtain the job, the power of his or her freedom of active choice is preserved in the right to say “no” to that particular job. Granted the counselor or rehabilitation professional may have a greater understanding of the work world and what kind of vocational environment may best utilize the skills and abilities of the individual. But the term “job placement” does not reflect the fact that the individual continuously is choosing to work in any given situation, even if it is in an enclave or supported employment.

Though articles have been written addressing client choice in supported employment (Brooke, Wehman, Inge, & Parent, 1995; Dwyre & Trach, 1996; Everson & Reid, 1997; Olney and Salomone, 1992; West & Parent, 1992), a few professionals still may argue that some rehabilitation individuals truly must be “placed” into a supported employment position, due to their lower functioning levels, such as developmental disabilities or severe traumatic brain injuries. Obviously, the rehabilitation professional has had to invest time and energy in setting up and maintaining employment positions for these individuals.

However, because rehabilitation professionals are working with humans and not automatons, the individuals’ choices to work or not to work must always be noticed and respected. Is an individual labeled as “acting out” on the job or vocational situation? Maybe the person is demonstrating such behaviors in order to send nonverbal messages about his or her choice to work or not to work in that job? Thus, even if individuals appear to have a very low awareness of their self-concepts, they can still express their choices by refusing to participate on the job. Consequently, freedom of choice in employment situations should be reflected on all levels of rehabilitation, including those individuals with the most severe disabilities. To reflect this freedom of choice to work or not to work, it is necessary to replace the directional term “job placement” because it does not acknowledge the active agreement of the individual to work at a job, which may have been constructed for the individual by the counselor.

Alternate Terms

Greenwood (1982, p. 182) recognizes that “job placement” has a negative connotation that reflects a “paternalistic approach” and, accordingly, suggests that the term “job acquisition” could be used in its place. “Job acquisition” denotes an active process on the part of the individual, suggesting that the counselor or rehabilitation professional helps the individual with a disability to obtain a job. “Job acquisition” also has a positive connotation of gaining a job, in contrast to the implied passivity with the term “job placement” by its connotation of “being put” in a job.

Other terms may also be appropriate for the substitution of “job placement,” such as a phrase containing the term “employment” (e.g., employment selection). With some creative thinking, the rehabilitation profession can update its biased terminology connected to the active process in which individuals with disabilities obtain and maintain employment.


“Job placement” is an umbrella term that can be used to depict many different ways of helping individuals with disabilities to find work. Because the semantics of the term “job placement” reflects a linear “from-to” concept symbolizing that the counselor or rehabilitation professional is the one with the power to put individuals with disabilities into jobs, it is proposed that other terms may be more appropriate to use in rehabilitation counseling. Manus (1975, p. 35) noted that “indirect expressions of attitudes toward disabled people can be inferred from our behavior, our speech and our language.”

Hence, if the rehabilitation counseling relationship is to be depicted as an equal, balanced interaction between the counselor and individual, then it is advisable to examine why the biased term “job placement” is still being used in the rehabilitation profession.

In summary, the perspective that every single individual, no matter how severe his or her disability, ultimately chooses to work should be made evident in the terminology used in the rehabilitation profession. Therefore, the term “job placement” should be substituted with a term such as “job acquisition” or other possibilities, in order to reflect individual choice. Though this change may appear to be inconsequential to some people, it reflects a philosophical shift in a similar way that the change to using “person-first” language demonstrates a greater respect for the individual. By using terminology that represents a process of active individual choice, it will encourage an even greater respect of consumers’ choice, whether they refuse or accept the vocational situations to which they have access.

Acknowledgment: The author would like to thank Dr. Richard Roessler for feedback concerning this manuscript.


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Ms. Martz is a doctoral student in the Department of Rehabilitation, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR.

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