REHABILITATION RESEARCH AND TRAINING CENTER AT VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH UNIVERSITY
A Customer-Driven Approach to Supported Employment
Robert is a young man who recently decided that he would like to work. One of his best friends had told him about a supported employment project, Project Access, that had assisted her in finding a job. Robert contacted the project, completed a referral form, and became a supported employment customer.
Part of the project's focus is to find individuals jobs of their choice
using person-centered planning. During Robert's PATH meeting, he was asked,
"what is your greatest fear related to employment?" His response:
"I don't want just any job. I want a job that interests me."
Unfortunately, Robert's first job had been found "for him". His
only "choice" had been no job or a job working in an enclave.
His fear was that this would happen again.
Often supported employment programs are quick to say that they promote
customer choice. However, if probed further, many well meaning employment
specialists have difficulty describing how their programs give customers
choices in the services that they receive. There are many "Roberts"
who must choose between no job or a job less than what they deserve. Customer
choice becomes a buzz word rather than practice.
Some programs continue to justify employment in segregated options under
the guise of customer choice. They argue that individuals choose to stay
in these settings, because they are happier there than they would be working
in the community. The question then becomes one of informed choice or the
freedom to make informed decisions. In fact, Webster's dictionary defines
If the definition is explored further, the following information
can be found:
While this may seem a matter of semantics to some, it is interesting
to think about these definitions in relationship to the services provided
by supported employment programs. Are we giving our customers the "privilege"
of choosing based on professional authority? Do we simply provide two alternatives
and force people to choose the one which may be the lesser of two evils?
Or are we truly providing a selection of choices and assisting individuals
in carefully discriminating between their choices? Finally, is the power
to make choices about their lives something that customers earn or is it
Fortunately, there are many supported employment programs nationally
that are wrestling with the definition of customer choice. They are designing
and using best practice strategies that place the individual at the center
of his/her employment process. Some of these best practices include choice,
control, careers, full inclusion, long term supports, community and business
supports, rehabilitation technology, and person-centered planning. This
RRTC newsletter will highlight a number of these exciting best practices.
----- Katherine J. Inge, Editor
Supported Employment Best Practices
There are nine best practices that are encompassed in a customer-driven
approach to supported employment. Central to the concept is the idea that
the customer is in control of the process. The role of the employment specialist
is to assist the customer in reaching his or her career goals. The best
practices which include choice, control, careers, full inclusion, long
term supports, community and business supports, total quality management,
assistive technology, and person-centered planning form the foundation
to this approach. Quality service providers will incorporate these practices
into their daily activities of implementing supported employment services.
The opportunity to make choices concerning employment, living arrangements,
and recreation has been limited or nonexistent for many individuals with
disabilities. Choice in a customer-driven approach would dictate that all
supported employment customers are presented with a variety of experiences,
options, and supports to achieve career goals of their choice. If individuals
are to experience personal satisfaction and quality of life, regardless
of the level or type of disability, they must be given the opportunity
and support to express preferences. Supported employment customers need
to be directing the process by choosing the service provider, the subsequent
employment specialist, and the specific support services that they may
need to obtain and maintain employment.
The concept of control expands the above definition of choice to a broader
concept of exerting control and ultimately self-determination. Control
refers to an individual's ability to access supported employment services
and to freely act upon his or her choices and decisions without fear of
reprisal. Supported employment customers must be free to participate in
supported employment services by choosing a service provider or employment
specialist, by accepting or declining a specific job, or by electing to
resign or continue employment with a particular company.
Career development is an important consideration for any adult seeking
employment. The customer-driven approach to supported employment places
an increased emphasis on the initial time that a direct service provider
spends with the customer to assist with the identification of career goals.
Service providers must be skilled in working closely with their customers
to develop strategies for marketing their service, establishing a rapport
with the business community, interviewing employers, and conducting in-depth
job analysis of specific employment settings. Completing this process will
yield an extensive amount of information for the customer to determine
if the wages, benefits, conditions, supports, and corporate culture are
sufficient for long term career development.
The concept of full community inclusion calls for a vision of society in which all persons are viewed in terms of their abilities and are welcomed into the mainstream of community life. Relationship building at the business site will be vital to building full community inclusion and achieving employment satisfaction. For example, working age adults spend, on average, 40 hours a week at their place of employment. The office or business setting is where many social relationships are formed. This same principle holds true for people with disabilities. However, because some people are still uncertain of how to approach someone with a disability, the employment specialist can assist by breaking down these artificial barriers from the first day of work. Assisting individuals with disabilities to obtain full inclusion in the work setting will facilitate a new vision of community where all members are valued.
Despite the importance of long term supports, it is the area of supported employment that has received the least amount of attention. Generally, service providers are very concerned with options for funding of this component of supported employment. Yet, the entire notion of type and level of support has been left open for individual interpretation. Long term supports should be designed to assist the customer in the identification and provision of supports and extended services which maintain and enhance the person's position as a valued member of the work force.
The entire notion of support has been vital to the national expansion of supported employment. An employment specialist must be prepared and have the necessary knowledge to develop community and business supports, facilitate informed choice, assist in assessing preferred choice, provide a variety of individualized supports, coordinate and monitor all types of assistance and respond to changes over time. The direct service providers of supported employment should be spending less time actually engaged in delivering a support and more time engaged in assessing a situation with a customer, sharing information about possible support options, assisting the customer in accessing the support option, and evaluating the effectiveness of the strategy.
Continuous quality improvement calls for service providers to focus their time and energy on improving the process, the product, and the service. The key to continuous improvement is driven and defined by the customer. Providers must listen to the wishes and desires of persons with significant disabilities to determine the agency's mission, goals and objectives. People with disabilities who are participating in supported employment or who are actively seeking services should be assisting in developing and evaluating services. Having job coaches, job developers, and customers working together will give the agency the necessary data to drive quality improvement.
Since the early 1970's, assistive technology has emerged and opened
unlimited employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. Individuals
who at one time were unserved and faced enormous barriers concerning accessibility,
communication, and mobility can now optimize their intellectual and physical
capabilities. With the use of voice synthesizers, people are able to express
their wants and desires. Computers can be operated by a human voice or
a simple gaze of an eye. This new technology is unlocking doors and providing
opportunities for a greater number of people to obtain and maintain employment.
Supported employment has always been about assisting one person at a
time in achieving employment satisfaction. Person-centered planning seeks
to support the contributions of each person in his or her local community
by building a support group around the individual. This support group or
community network functions together to assist the focus person in obtaining
his or her goals and aspirations. Person-centered planning provides an
excellent tool for the customer to direct the career process.
Implementing the Customer-Driven Approach
Techniques for implementing a customer-driven approach to supported employment requires the individual with the significant disability to direct the process. Decisions from selecting the community service provider and job coach to identifying the type and level of long-term supports must be made by the supported employment customer. The following table provides a brief description of the major components of a customer-driven approach to supported employment.
Using Person-Centered Planning to Develop a Customer Profile
Customer-Driven Support Teams
Many supported employment customers are beginning to use support teams
to assist them in identifying a career path. This has been referred to
in the literature as a "Circle of Support" or "Circle of
Friends". Typically, the team is made up of friends, family, professionals,
and any other persons involved in the customer's life. A supported employment
team may include the customer, his or her employment specialist, vocational
rehabilitation counselor, case worker, friends and family members, and
so forth. Only those individuals selected by the customer should be asked
to be members of the team.
Identifying the Career Path
PATH as a Planning Tool
The PATH process was designed by Jack Pearpoint, Marsha Forest, and
John O'Brien and can be used to identify a customer's dreams and goals
for employment. A PATH is led by a group facilitator and a graphic recorder.
These individuals are preferably "neutral" and not members of
the customer's support team. The following eight steps are completed and
must be discussed in order to preserve the integrity of the process.
The facilitator's responsibility is to assist the team in addressing
each of these eight steps of the PATH. The customer should be encouraged
to "dream" what his/her future looks like without any limitations.
Once this has occurred, the customer can talk about the goals that have
been accomplished during a specified time period. This could be one year,
six months, or any other length of time that is just past what the person
can predict. The facilitator encourages the customer to think about these
events as if they have already happened. Goals identified in this step
should be positive and possible. If the customer has difficulty communicating
or is unable to think of events in the future, the facilitator can encourage
the team to assist by describing things that they feel have happened. These
career goals or events always should be verified by the customer, before
placing on the PATH.
The information in this newsletter may be duplicated for dissemination without profit.