What Is Supported Employment?
It is a model of employment that provides people with severe disabilities the appropriate, ongoing support that is necessary for success in a competitive work environment. Most individuals in a supported employment program receive services from a community-based service provider. Generally, community-based service providers offer vocational assessment, locate or develop jobs, and provide job skills training. Most providers have job coaches who work at the job site and help the client learn job tasks, identify job modifications including assistive technology, and work with the employer to solve behavioral or social problems.
Example: Jim is developmentally delayed and has problems communicating with people. He rarely uses words and frequently acts out when he becomes frustrated or upset. A staff person assessed his vocational skills and located a job for him in a large retail store. Jim enjoys tearing things apart, and his task at work is to break down cardboard cartons and put them in the recycle container. He works three hours twice a week. Store employees put all cardboard boxes in a work area set aside for Jim. The job coach works with the employer and Jim to assist him with communicating with coworkers and to avoid situations that might frustrate or upset him.
Who Is Supported Employment Designed to Help?
It is for individuals with severe disabilities who need lifelong, ongoing support. An individual with vision loss who has additional, severe disabilities would, therefore, be eligible for supported employment. Most individuals with vision loss only need access to information and not direct support and therefore are not candidates for supported employment.
Example: Sally is blind, developmentally disabled, and is easily distracted. Because of these problems, she is not able to work without extensive training in job tasks and guidance to keep working. She works in the laundry department of a large hotel folding towels and sheets. Assistance is provided from a job coach in setting up her workstation each day and making sure that she stays on task. She folds laundry five days a week for three hours each day with pay at minimum wage.
Where Is Supported Employment Located?
Supported employment is never in a segregated setting with all coworkers being disabled. The federal government has defined what employment settings meet their definition of supported employment. Examples of employment settings for supported employment would be:
- In a competitive job with no other individuals with disabilities.
Example: Sally from our first example enjoys working with cloth and continues to work at the hotel. No other employee has a disability, and so, this is an example of supported employment.
- Part of an enclave of no more than six individuals with disabilities.
Example: Joe enjoys putting things together. He has low vision and autism with problems relating to others and staying on task. His job is at a factory assembling parts. Five other individuals who are disabled also work at the same factory assembling parts. Because he is employed in an integrated setting that has no more than six individuals who are disabled, he is considered to be in a supported employment program. Services are provided to all six employees by a job coach from a community-based service provider.
- Part of a mobile crew of no more than six individuals with disabilities who travel to different locations to provide a service such as cleaning or landscaping.
Example: Gerry likes to be outdoors. He is visually impaired and developmentally delayed with Downs Syndrome. He is one of six disabled people who are on a mobile crew that provides landscaping services to local businesses. The community-based service provider supplies two job coaches who provide transportation to the various locations and assign work tasks to crew members.
- Self-employed business. An example would be a client who has set up a company that shreds documents for various businesses.
Example: Claire enjoys operating a paper shredder and is cortically blind, developmentally delayed, and has cerebral palsy. The community-based service provider surveyed local businesses and established there was a need for a business to provide the shredding of confidential documents. Claire and her family worked with her vocational rehabilitation counselor to set up an independent business in her name. She was able to purchase a van and a commercial shredder that could travel to different business locations. A job coach drives the van and assists Claire in shredding documents. This is an example of supported employment that includes the creation of a job from exploring the needs of the local business community and is a strategy for creating employment options in rural settings.